Like most HR professionals, I have been on the dishing out end of grievances, disciplinary processes and investigations. As a licensed private investigator, I now investigate harassment, bullying and other complaints when required by clients. So I know my way around the law and the standard HR policies.

The standard code of conduct and ways of working policies have a dual purpose - to establish the framework for appropriate behaviours and to protect the organisation in the event that an employee doesn't behave in that way.

And therein lies the rub - those policies aren't really about changing behaviours or improving behaviours, they are about stating the standard, and then defining the process for managing a breach of that standard. About ensuring that if the matter goes to a tribunal, that the organisation can be seen to have "done the right thing."

So far, so good. Except there are fundamental flaws with the whole system. You just have to look at the number of cases where policies aren't followed to see that it doesn't necessarily provide the iron clad protection that is hoped for when matters are referred to a tribunal. Then there are the examples where the process is followed so robotically that it's laughable - you can hear the person following the script and not deviating. 

But most of all, the issue is that once a person is in the process - the psychological contract with that employee is almost always damaged or broken. Even if there is no case to answer, sitting through hours of interviews, asking questions that sometimes have no relevance to the issue at hand, and often a complete disregard of the wider context of the workplace. 

The employee - if they're punished in some way - will usually conform or comply for a while at least (not the same as changing their behaviour). But most will say, the relationship never really goes back to how it was. For those that aren't punished, there's often a sense of how bruising the process was. The bruise may fade over time but there's usually a sensitivity there for quite a while longer.

At the heart of the issue, is that in outsourcing feedback and requests for changed behaviour to a process/procedure, managers avoid manage to avoid the often tricky task of giving on point feedback that is constructive and behaviour changing; rather than being passive and avoiding it, or aggressive and delivering the message in such a way that the message is lost.

I am not suggesting that it's easy. Of course the law will always require due process and fairness. And of course there will always be instances where the issue is so significant that no amount of feedback is going to work. But in the main what we have now doesn't work. And what we have now doesn't deliver that so called fairness. 

As work changes with more automation, the jobs that remain will have ever more emphasis on the ability to communicate properly and work together creatively and with innovation. Treating people like widgets is the exact opposite of the very skills we are going to require of people going forward.  

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