19 pages and counting
Recently I was working with a small association and discovered their performance appraisal form was 19 pages long.

Which reminded me of how common such overkill is.

I have seen it in too many companies. One of my earliest clients, a fast-growing government contractor, had more people management forms than people.

Too often entrepreneurs burden themselves with administrivia and extra work without even thinking.

And never realize it until they are in legal trouble or bogged down so much that they are in financial trouble.

How does this happen to smart, driven people?
Often, founders who do not want to deal with conflict (that is: individual problems) turn to creating a policy instead. So when one VP travels as if he is the maharajah, we don’t talk directly to him about this. No, we create a 10 page travel policy detailing every possible option we can think of with multi-step advance approval forms plus expense forms that have to go through all the same people. And tell everyone to live by it.

HR policy and the small business punt
Second many founders and senior managers know that they need some policy or procedures. For HR management, those are often performance appraisals, recruiting, or employee handbooks. But rather than spend an employee’s time to research and build the right stuff or hire an expert, they punt. ‘The old review form I used at my last employer was good enough’, they think – and it must have passed legal review there. So I will just change the logo and company name. And somehow they forget to think about their own culture, goals, or employees.

Got you wondering about your own business?
Take a look at your policies, practices, and forms. Take a bit of time each week to review one. Try to do more than that and you won’t get through even three at a time without screaming in frustration. Don’t just look at the HR stuff either.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the goal of this document? Why does it exist?
  • Is it relevant to our strategy? Business plan?
  • Does it reflect our desired culture?
  • Is it the easiest, most effective way to achieve the goal?
  • Has it been researched or reviewed by anyone I trust who has expertise?
  • Is it actually being used effectively? How do I know?
  • Can it be used against me? Does any misuse or non-use create risks?

Crowd out vital work (or don’t!)
The wrong policies and practices tell everyone that there is a difference between what you say and what you do. They create a culture that is not what you want. They add a lot of work for you, your managers, and others – work that is not productive and that crowds out vital work. And they can add risk.

From 109 forms to 16 (aka helping HR match your business culture)
How many of the 109 forms I found at the client above were really being used properly across the whole organization? And how many complaints were there from managers about the forms wasting their time? All had come about honestly – as a need was found or a problem identified or a risk feared. But no-one had ever looked at them all or thought about the messages they sent. So we cut them to 16 that they needed – and they were used.

Ask any employment attorney who works for individuals – they love employee handbooks, policy and practice manuals, and forms. Why? Because they can so often demonstrate that the guidance was ignored to the detriment of their client and thus win the case.

None of this is to say that you do not need some basics to help run your business more effectively. Or that you can never look at any other organizations’ materials for ideas. You will find that some critical business issues do need clear guidance published for your staff to learn and have as reference.

But if you don’t want to flounder in administrivia
-you need to ensure your guidelines, forms, policies, and practices are clear, concise, and the minimum necessary to do the job efficiently. And you will want expert advice or review for some – to make sure that you are meeting your goals with minimal risk or to help you understand potential pitfalls.

Originally posted to WomenGrowBusiness blog.


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