HR Training: Deal with Problems Directly

By Sean Abbas on April 21, 2014

As part of the Threads HR Training Series we are helping human resource managers shift their workload towards building organizational culture. If you want to free up time in your schedule to focus on culture, you need to simplify the policies and procedures you have to maintain. We have always trained our HR managers to focus on the “who” and “why” behind the issue when supervisors or managers ask human resources to create a new policy. If 90% of people are doing the right thing, HR managers need to help supervisors address the individual problems directly.


The Problem

Here is a real world example that our HR manager successfully handled in our company. A few years ago, our Operations Manager approached Human Resources with a problem. He had some employees in our manufacturing plant slipping out the door 4-10 minutes early for lunch. One of our supervisors addressed the employees on leaving early and it got better in the short term. Within a month, the issue was starting to creep back in to the picture.

Our Operations Manager proposed that we talk about the problem at our next company-wide meeting. He thought we should reiterate our attendance policy for all employees and post signs on the doors. Further, he suggested that we put a tone system in the building to identify the proper starting and stopping times for everyone working in the plant. He had researched the cost of a system and said we could get one installed for about $1,500. It was something we would need anyway as we got larger, right?

Our HR Manager got specific with the Operations Manager on details of the problem. It turned out that of our 160 employees, only 7 were taking advantage of the freedom and leaving early. The overwhelming majority (96%) were doing the right thing and getting along just fine under the current system. There was no way our HR Manager wanted to waste a bunch of time standing in front of all these folks, re-stating a policy that 96% were following to begin with. Further, human resources estimated that at least 80 employees knew exactly who was leaving early and were watching to see how we reacted to the problem.

The Solution

Instead of HR spending time retraining 160 people on the attendance policy, posting signs, installing a tone system, updating the employee handbook, dealing with questions and complaints about the change, etc., we solved the problem in 45 minutes. Our HR Manager came to me to discuss the situation. We decided that I, as President of the company, would personally wait outside the door for these 7 people to exit early for lunch.

The following day, I went outside at 11:50 AM. At 11:52 AM the door opened and the group exited the building, only this time I was there to greet them. We had a nice little chat about our attendance policy that lasted until 12:03 PM. The rest of the employees on the shift walked right past us at noon. Everyone who was doing the right thing saw us and knew exactly what was happening. Word spread quickly to the rest of our company.

Problem solved. No time wasted for anyone else. No new bureaucracy for HR to manage. Lesson learned… priceless.


HR Training Takeaways

Think about how much time and effort you spend creating policies and procedures for everyone when you are really only trying to deal with the 5-10% of employees who aren’t doing something the right way or who are taking advantage of your current system. Here are some things to consider when faced with a similar situation in the future.

1.    Do Not Respond with a New Policy.

A new policy addressed to everyone in your organization, that is really meant to deal with a few specific individuals, will create a new time commitment for you. It also has the potential to damage your culture. It might feel like the path of least resistance, but recognize that it’s not. While it avoids confrontation with a few people today, it creates an environment of mistrust with everyone else and emboldens the offenders to cause more problems for you in the future. It’s simply not worth it.

2.    Respond Directly.

The people breaking the rules know what they are doing. We all know when we are wrong and not following the right path. How do you respond to someone who confronts you about breaking the rules, when you know you are wrong? Now think about how you feel when you are following the rules, and someone lectures you about the rules you are already following. Do the right thing and handle problems directly.

3.    Consider Your Culture and Core Values.

Consider the impact on your organizational culture with how you respond to any discipline issue. Your core values and culture are on display for everyone to see in these circumstances. When you respond consistently with your core values it not only fixes an issue that’s damaging your culture, but it also reinforces your core values in the eyes of everyone else who is watching HR’s response.


The Wrap

You can help coach managers and supervisors in your organization to handle these situations directly. As you do, you will find yourself spending less time on tactical issues and more time on building culture. The best HR Managers I have ever encountered are focused on building culture, training and facilitating relationships. It will bring value to your organization and bring you value personally. Now, go do the right thing!