Implementing a New HR Policy

Merilyn Speiser , 27 June 2019

How do you build a strong HR policy without impacting on the culture of your practice? Merilyn Speiser provides a brief guide on implementing change as seamlessly as possible.

In the life of any practice, there comes a time when a new HR policy needs to be introduced – or even introduced for the first time. This idea can scare a lot of business owners and managers, who worry that making a change – especially moving to something more formal – could lead to a loss of morale or even resignations. If you’re concerned about introducing a new HR policy into your workplace, we’ve put together a guide on how to implement change without impacting your workplace culture.

Explain why it’s necessary

Generally, most people like nothing less than change for change’s sake. And that’s compounded a million times over when change impacts them in a negative way (or at least they perceive it as negative). At the same time, people tend to respond quite well when they’re given context. So, if you do intend to introduce a new HR policy, explain precisely why you have to introduce it and what its effects will be. When you do, it’s important that you’re delicate but also rational – point out the benefits of the new approach and deal in facts, not emotion. And, if you’re introducing the policy because of the actions of one person, or a few people, be sure not to point fingers.

Address the real source of the problem

That said, if you’re introducing organisational change on the back of the behaviour of one or two people, ask yourself: is it really necessary at all? If it’s not, you’re likely to save yourself a whole lot of trouble. For instance, if one person is abusing your annual leave policy, would you be better off taking the issue up with them in a one-on-one chat rather than developing and enforcing a new policy across your whole organisation? If you do choose the second path, you’re likely to be seen as “punishing all for the sins of the few” and this won’t go down well – for you, or for the offenders. So be proportionate and make sure any change is coming from the right place.

Take ownership

Again, employees never like it when bosses fail to take ownership of something they do. And, when it comes to a new HR policy, that can come in many forms. It could be leaving it to more junior staff members to announce and police the change. (Always do it yourself.) Or, it could be taking the approach of applying the policy to others but not to yourself. (For instance, if you restrict people’s ability to work from home, you really need to come into the office each day too.) Finally, it could be avoiding difficult situations or confrontation and just emailing a decision you’ve made out to everyone as a fait accompli. (Fortune almost always favours the brave.) Whatever you need to do, make sure the buck stops with you.

Communicate, communicate and communicate again

I firmly believe the key to most things in life is communication – and just as importantly, keeping the lines of communication open. One of the worst things you can ever do when introducing a new HR policy is to attempt to shut down discussion or fail to engage. Make sure people know your door is open if they want to talk it through. If they come to you with reasons why your new policy shouldn’t apply to them, be compassionate but stay firm. After all, inconsistency is always the enemy of sound HR practices. Only by applying a policy in a fair but uniform way will it ever become part of the fabric of your business.

Be prepared

Finally, be prepared for some blowback when the policy comes in. No doubt you’ll face pressure from employees to change your mind and maintain the status quo. However, if you want to maintain the respect of your workforce and keep the culture strong, it’s always vital you stay firm. Rehearse what the objections are likely to be, and what your response to these will be also. Make sure your managers and team leaders are aware of how to answer any questions too. By keeping the message consistent and being prepared to explain your reasoning, you’ll go some way to preventing the worst kind of fallout from happening.

Just remember

Implementing a new policy without ruining your culture may be difficult, but by following these five principles you’ll be on your way to making it happen.

Merilyn Speiser is Principal Consultant at Catalina Consultants. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on the Catalina Consulting blog, and is republished here with permission.