Knowing when to bend the rules (Editorial)

Thoughtful consideration, not blind adherence to policy, makes for good HR

Men’s hockey aside, Canada did very well at the Winter Olympics hauling in a record number of medals. But there was one “could-have, should-have got” that serves as a lesson beyond Turin’s Olympic spectacle.

Dale Begg-Smith, a 21-year-old Vancouver native, won gold in freestyle skiing. Unfortunately, he won it for Australia.

Begg-Smith was more than just a teen ski-mogul prodigy when he lived full time in Canada. He was also a budding entrepreneur starting up his own Internet business. Seems that between school, work and sports he was only able to devote a certain amount of time to each endeavour. And that wasn’t good enough for the Canadian Junior Ski Team, which has strict rules about the amount of training time someone must commit to if he intends to pursue Olympic dreams.

So when a Canadian ski coach who had emigrated to Australia called, Begg-Smith packed up his skis and his business (reportedly now valued in the tens of millions of dollars) and headed Down Under.

And that’s the problem with rules and top performers.

HR has lots of rules, and most are very necessary. It’s the only way to let staff know what’s expected and what is unacceptable. Without them there’s no way to ensure fair and equitable treatment of employees, set performance standards and job requirements, not to mention protecting the organization from liability.

But as the saying goes, “rules are meant to be broken,” and that’s the trick of being a valued HR professional.

Not every situation can be solved by a rulebook.

If policy states a position pays a certain amount, but a top performer needs a bit more before becoming a turnover statistic, are you willing to investigate the situation and bend the rule? If someone has used all her sick and vacation days, but needs a few more in a crisis are you flexible, knowing the time will be paid back? If a person with tenure transfers to a division he becomes unhappy with but policy states he can’t change posts more than once a year, do you stick with that? Even if his unhappiness results in a valued staffer leaving the firm?

Scenarios like these are common challenges in the world of HR. And they need more than blind adherence to policy, they require thoughtful consideration, and yes, sometimes exceptions must be made. Otherwise HR loses the respect of managers within the organization. “We lost Susan because HR wouldn’t pay her an extra $5,000 because of the pay scale, and now I’m wasting more than that recruiting for a new person while targets aren’t being met.”

It ain’t easy being HR. But if you use common sense along with the rulebook the gold medals will come your way.

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