The Organisational Performance Blog

Policies, the most overused but ineffective resource in HR?

To HR professionals’ policies are often considered to be the backbone of a company’s HR framework, but to business owners more often than not, they are considered as “painful and limiting”.  They are supposed to provide guidance and structure, ensure fairness and consistency, and protect both employees and the company. However, despite their prevalence, HR policies are often seen as ineffective and outdated; so, is there a middle ground?

The case against

My biggest criticism is that HR policies are frequently created in response to specific incidents or concerns, rather than as part of a larger strategy. This means that they may not address root causes or anticipate future issues, and if we are always responding to what has been it stops us from focusing on what should be.  Additionally, HR policies are often over engineered, (we’ve all met that HR person who loves to write a good policy!)  they are complex and difficult to understand, leading to confusion and ambiguity which in turn results in an inconsistent application of then and an over reliance on training and retraining of managers whilst leading to resentment and mistrust from employees. A loose/loose all round!

While policies are meant to provide structure and consistency, they are widely regarded by most managers as rigid and inflexible and all too often they can also restrict creativity and innovation, especially when a business is in growth stages.  In a rapidly changing business environment, this can be a serious disadvantage and blocker for the business. Additionally, policies can sometimes be seen as a substitute for good management practices, which often leads to a lack of accountability and responsibility.

And the case for?

HR policies are essential for any business seeking to maintain a healthy and productive work environment. These policies should serve as guidelines for employees, providing them with clarity regarding their responsibilities within the business, whilst ensuring that all employees are treated fairly and consistently, regardless of their position or level of seniority.

One of the primary benefits is that they help to minimise the risk of legal disputes and liability for the business. They clearly outline the expectations and requirements for employees, thereby reducing the potential for misunderstandings or disputes that could result in legal action, but probably the most underutilised functions of HR policies is to help maintain a positive and inclusive workplace culture. By establishing clear guidelines and expectations HR policies can lead to higher levels of employee engagement, productivity, and retention, after all much like a game of sport, when we all know our purpose and position,  where we’re going and the rules of engagement, it result usually results in a win !

In conclusion, policies should form an essential part of a company’s growth strategy.  They should be used thoughtfully and strategically. They should be designed to address underlying issues, be clear and understandable, and be adaptable to changing circumstances. By taking a more holistic approach to the development of working guidelines, we stand a much better chance of ensuring they are relevant and used to support the business rather than slow things down. 

Next time you are handed a policy remember that is should provide a framework for the company’s expectations and procedures, how it operates, and how employees should behave, think of them as a set of guidelines entitled “How we do things around here”

To find out more about how we work with clients to enhance organisational performance through your people, contact us at

Other resources:

Article: Employee Paperwork – How difficult can it be?



  • With over 20 years' experience in structuring and growing businesses and teams from inception, through periods of growth and change and finally structuring them ready for sale, Karen and her team have helped dozens of business owners and leaders manage growth and change within their business by concentrating on the human side of running and managing a business. An experienced Organisational Coach and HR Consultant, Karen has extensive experience in working with growth SMEs and a proven background in delivery and development of employees against business goals, her specialism is in working with small and medium size companies, delivering operational, people-based solutions that are commercially focused and enable growth of the business. Karen also works as a Non-Executive Director and Trustee and is a trained Predictive Index (PI) Analyst.

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