Ten HR Practices to Nuke

Looking for a way to lighten the HR load while increasing productivity and engagement? A former Fortune 500 HR executive offers some common, yet ineffective and unhelpful, human resource practices that should be ditched.

Monday, August 1, 2011
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Employers are weary of slogging through successive quarters of tepid growth, at best. HR staffs are searching for ways to cut fat. Here are our picks for 10 HR practices to toss out immediately -- the outdated, never-made-sense, unwieldy and fear-based activities that add zero value and suck up precious time and brain cells.

How many of these HR practices are clogging your company's engine?

Forced Ranking

You can't tell your people to band together as a team 364 days a year and then, when it counts, devolve into zero-sum competition. It's stupid, creates dissension, reduces your brilliant employees to points on a graph and does your customers no good whatsoever.

There's no such thing as a single dimension of human fabulousness, which is all (if it existed) that forced ranking could hope to measure. So why do it?

If you don't trust your managers to lead their teams without heavy-handed and insulting devices such as forced ranking, sell the company.

Black-Hole Recruiting

To hire smart and proactive people, which is the better plan: Find them and engage them in conversation, asking your employees and other fans to connect you with their smartest friends, or set out human lobster traps and wait for the lobsters to mosey in?

Post-and-sort recruiting systems, the ones featuring bureaucratic black-hole intake systems, are headed the way of the dinosaur.

Move at least your rock-star-and-ninja hiring to a more personal, immediate and targeted platform and ramp down your black-hole hiring. While you're at it, rewrite your auto-responder messages so they sound like humans wrote them, and not robots.

Bell-Curve Performance Reviews

If we're avid to institutionalize mediocrity, we can tell our managers they're each allowed to retain just few excellent employees every year. If they're over their quota, we'll force them to downgrade the surplus excellent employees to a lower category at performance-review time, signaling "time for you to be leaving" in the process.

Bell-curve performance reviews bake sub-par performance into our organizations and discourage managers from hiring exceptional people. If we don't trust our managers to manage, why did we put them in their jobs in the first place?

Exhaustive Policy Manuals

Any time a competent working person is stopped in his or her tracks (booking a flight, for instance, or giving an employee a half-day off) to find and study a company policy, your organization loses in two ways.

First, every policy requires administration, so time and bandwidth get wasted. Second, your employees have to keep track (at least to the level of "Wait, is there a policy covering that?") of every policy you dream up.

That's a huge time-drain and distraction, especially for knowledge workers who do their best work "in the zone" and unshackled by red tape. If you want breakthrough results from your team, kill three-quarters of your policies and hire people you trust to get the right things done.

Love Contracts

Love contracts sprang into being several years ago as a hedge against sexual-harassment claims. Here's the logic: If two employees sign the agreement to certify they coupled-up voluntarily, your company won't be liable.

Sadly, the lawyers who devised this scheme stopped short of "You Can't Believe the Dreams I've Been Having About Natalie" contracts, "Jorge and I Went Out for Drinks and One Thing Led to Another" contracts and "I've Had the Biggest Crush on Mark for Two Years But Haven't Worked Up the Nerve to Talk to Him" contracts.

If you want to keep a lid on sexual harassment -- specifically the type associated with the influence of romance on a personnel decision-maker -- then, ask the decision-maker whether there's anything special happening between him or her and anyone else in the group.

Our colleagues shouldn't have to keep us briefed on their entanglements.

Sadistic Bereavement-Leave Policies

When I heard employers were requiring death certificates before paying people for bereavement leave, I figured I was being pranked.

At a team member's time of greatest sadness, can we bring ourselves to whisper in his ear, "We're sorry for your loss, but we need to make sure Aunt Sally really died"?

If we don't trust ourselves to hire people who wouldn't dream of inventing relatives (or relatives' deaths) to snag a couple days of PTO, we should throw in the towel.

If our leaders insist on seeing death certificates, they should go whole hog and require employees to prove their genealogical ties to the deceased. That's no policy more ridiculous than the death-certificate rule.

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Stealing Miles

Your employees' tushes are in the airplane seats and their feet are in the lines at security.

Their lives are disrupted by the overnight travel their jobs require of them. They earned their frequent-flyer miles. Give them their miles, for Pete's sake.

If your company is so hard up for cash that you have to steal your employees' frequent-flyer miles, something is wrong with your business model or its execution.

Stitch-Level Dress-Code Policies

Here's a dress-code policy: "Thank you for wearing clothes to work. Check out the employee photos below to get an idea of what Business Casual means to us." Everything gets easier when we hire adults and stay out of their closets.

Candidate Abuse

If talent shortages haven't hit your shop yet, get ready: they're coming. If there was ever a good time to subject job-seekers in your pipeline to weeks of radio silence, that time is not now.

The employers that get the best at snagging talent and cultivating talent pools are going to win, so if your firm is still in the "silence is golden" mode where candidate communication is concerned, now is the time to shift your thinking.

If you aren't selling your opportunities as much as you're vetting applicants, you're setting your recruiting sights too low.

Corporate-Speak Boilerplate

Bureaucratic language is the kudzu of internal communication.

We don't have to write deadly memos like "Effective August 15, it will no longer be permissible to access the warehouse through the rear door, as that entrance will require security credentials."

We can say: "We put an alarm on the back door as a safety move."

Assuming we're employing only humans and no androids, the use of human language in our communications should work out fine. Let the HR person least infected with the Boilerplate Writers Disease handle all of your employee communications, while the rest of you attempt to kick the corporate-speak habit. Imagine the paper you'll save!

Liz Ryan is a former Fortune 500 HR executive and the principal of Ask Liz Ryan, an HR strategy and career-development firm focused on the new-millennium workplace. Reach her at

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