Promulgating corporate values through human resource policies

Friday, 10 December 2010 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Niroshan Silva

The economic and social tapestry of the business world is such that HR professionals need to be mindful of the perceptions and feelings of the people who are captured and captivated through their efforts and activities.

Many HR departments over the years have lost employee esteem because of the perception that their policies and procedures were aimed at making life harder. New employees often sat through seemingly endless orientation sessions on policies. Worse, they later discovered that their reasonable approach to a work issue often violated some HR dictum.

On the other hand, HR professionals felt confused by the constant need to interpret HR policies and constrained by the constant need to apply them. They were beset by complaints about rigidity. Employees regarded the policies as obsolete, too limiting, and unresponsive to their concerns.

Making a difference

These features are symptomatic of the old ‘command and control’ style of management that has traditionally prevailed in most Western companies. Although seen as not the case in Sri Lanka, this article is meant to support the efforts of a few HR professionals who are working hard to make a difference.

Today, procedural rituals are disappearing from the landscape of best-practice companies. Such factors as corporate restructuring, empowerment, and participative management have combined to dismantle static and stultifying systems. In particular, such trends have affected HR forms of bureaucracy.

HR executives now act as strategic partners on their companies’ top management teams. They are expected to contribute to the achievement of business goals rather than simply occupy themselves with the details of personnel administration, in an environment that demands speed and agility, HR professionals are realising that thick volumes to regulate employee behaviour are a burden they can ill afford.


A law-and-order mentality of HR policy enforcement has become more and more irrelevant as companies seek to increase employee autonomy and reduce costly employee monitoring

Companies reassessing their HR policies may glean several lessons from our experiences at Training Consortium. First, managers should ask if the policies are contributing to the company’s effectiveness. Are they an important component in the effort to ensure a success-driven culture? Or are they simply a repository of the old ‘Personnel’ record-keeping and rule-enforcing roles?

Do they reinforce a command-and-control approach to management? If so, is this approach still viable in the current competitive environment? Do company managers feel constrained in their decision making by the need to consult detailed manuals? Does the company’s approach to policy ensure timely responses to changing circumstances?

If consideration of this checklist raises doubts, examining the company’s approach may be in order. In that case, the recourse may be to educate managers further on company values and then encourage them to connect HR decision making to these values.

If, on the other hand, the answer to any of the three questions is negative or doubtful, managers might consider a substantial revision not only of the company’s HR policies but also its method of enacting them.

Primary values

Identifying a company’s primary values is the essential first step to a value-based culture approach. If these values are not yet manifested, the need exists to identify a small set, generally ranging from three to six in number, that best represent the company.

They might be embedded in corporate mission and vision statements or in a corporate code of conduct. An important component of this step is to ask if the company’s primary values are contributing to corporate success.

Next, guidelines that accompany the value sets are essential for their effective inculcation. Values such as integrity, innovation, and commitment leave latitude for interpretation. Guideline statements apply the values to specific work domains and instil thought patterns that are expected to characterise value-based decision making.

It is possible to have several guideline statements for each value, as the values are applied to major areas of business conduct. As employees read the guideline statements, the values come to life, with a consistency in the tone and nature of responses. When faced with their own decisions, employees have a sense of how to respond in accordance with the values.

Values and Ethics handbook

The Values and Ethics handbook of a company for example must illustrate these connections for the central values, e.g. integrity, innovation, and commitment. The document presents “respect for others” and “honesty” as the two main embodiments of integrity. Under the “respect for others” category, defined as “treating others as we want to be treated,” the company might present a series of guidelines for enacting the principle, including:

“Recognising and avoiding behaviours that others may find offensive, including the manner in which we speak and relate to one another and the materials we bring into the workplace, both printed and electronically.”

“Understanding that even though it has the obligation to monitor its business information systems activity, we will respect privacy by prohibiting random searches communications of individual tiers.”

“Recognising that conduct socially and professionally acceptable in one culture and country may be viewed differently in another.”

These guidelines show clear implications for the development of HR policy. They establish the direction and intent that connect the values to specific work issues, such as sexual harassment, prohibition of offensive materials, the boundaries of employee privacy, use of information systems, and cultural differences in acceptable practices. When consulting the handbook, those responsible for developing HR policies should be able to find valuable guidance.

New approaches

Rather than bemoan the loss of detailed operating procedures, HR executives have now to find new approaches to foster greater consistency in employee behaviour. The declining relevance of the command-and-control approach in business has extended into the roles played by HRM.

Many companies regard their employees’ talents as providing a significant competitive advantage. They expect their HR professionals to formulate creative, flexible programmes and policies to woo, develop, and retain that talent. In the pursuit of these ends, a law-and-order mentality of HR policy enforcement has become more and more irrelevant as companies seek to increase employee autonomy and reduce costly employee monitoring.

Employees seem averse to the mindset behind that style and wish to be treated as adults capable of making their own decisions. Moreover, in practical terms, the ability to monitor behaviour diminishes as companies expand operations to the far-flung corners of the world.

(The writer is the Immediate Past President & EXCO Member of The Association of Human Resource Professionals.)