The word “HR” has gained such a negative connotation that it’s nearly part of George Carlin’s list that can’t be said on television. And while HR is not a word, and George’s list isn’t as long as it once was, the fact remains that these days HR often stands for neither Human nor Resources. Too many managers spend the majority of their time wrapped up in rule-writing and rule-monitoring rather than who their rule-followers are.
People will always be the greatest asset of any organization. People, you know, the Humans referred to in Human Resources. We need to stop worrying so much about rules and controlling the actions and thoughts and schedule and browser history of our employees. Instead, let’s build giant sandboxes for them to play in. Lay out the parameters of what is expected and what is out of bounds, give them the tools, the buckets and shovels, and then cast a vision of what they could build.
Lists of rules are almost always lists of what someone is not allowed to do. This fosters an environment of what Stephen Covey calls “malicious obedience”, where employees do only exactly what they’re asked; nothing more. Over time a culture of compliance rather than commitment is created. Parameters of expectations on the other hand, lay out the framework of what needs to be accomplished. It’s a list of what “could be achieved” rather than a list of what “cannot be accepted”.
It takes courage to let go of the structures and spiral bound employee handbooks. And there are certainly many people that will take advantage of a less strict environment. But we must let go, especially with the millennial generation ascending to leadership roles. When granted the freedom to play, the freedom from having someone watch over their shoulders monitoring the “rules”, humans have some pretty great resources to offer.