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Ten Stupid Policies Great People Leave Companies

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Liz Ryan

Liz RyanInfluencer

CEO and Founder, Human Workplace

Ten Stupid Rules That Drive Great Employees Away


We met a guy named Vijay at a conference where he and I were speaking. About six months later, we heard from him.

"So I wanted to let you know, I'm out of here," said Vijay on the phone.

"What's the story?" we asked. "When we met you, you loved your job."

"I loved the job I thought I had, which is the job I interviewed for," said Vijay.

"That job never materialized. The company is trying to change its stripes, but it's hard."

"Let me guess," said my teammate Molly. "They told you 'It takes time to turn an ocean liner around.'"

Vijay laughed. "Those are the exact words my boss used! He's been trying to turn the vessel around for five years. That's too slow. I don't have that much time. I have things to do and places to go!"

"You couldn't see a path forward at your job?" I asked.

"I could see the path forward, and it's full of rocks and snakepits and quicksand," said Vijay.

"No good," we said. "Congratulations on your job search!"

"This place has a great brand name, but inside the company it's a weenie atmosphere," said Vijay.

"It's rules, rules, and more rules all over the place. Nothing but reasons why NOT to try something new. Life is too short!"

Vijay got a great job seven weeks later. It's sad to see great people like Vijay leaving companies.

I'm sure Vijay's CEO doesn't realize that his company makes it impossible for people to do the jobs they were hired for.

It's a new millennium - fifteen years into the new millennium, in fact. We don't have to manage our teams the way we did in 1962.

My dad put up with stupid corporate rules because his employer offered him a career path, job security forever and an awesome pension plan that my folks still rely on today, thirty years after my dad retired.

All that stuff is history. Employers who keep Mad-Men-era policies in place will keep driving their best people away until they spot the connection between policies, passion, performance and profits. Here's how it works:

The more policies, the less passion you'll get from your team.

The less passion, the less exciting the team's performance will be.

The less exciting the performance, the lower your profits will be.

Eureka!

Maybe this reminder will induce you to nuke one or more of these ten Talent-Repelling Policies if you're a manager. If you're not a manager, that doesn't mean you have to stay silent and complain to your cat about the stupid rules at work. You can speak up, at a staff meeting or directly with your manager.

Find your voice and speak! You were hired for your brains, weren't you?

Here's our list of Ten Stupid Rules that Drive Great Employees Away.

Stupid Attendance Policies

Salaried people don't need attendance policies. That's why they're on salary. If you're still dinging people for getting to work ten minutes late when they commonly stay an hour late every day, you don't deserve them on your team.

Stupid Frequent-Flyer Policies

Business travel is a grind. It takes years off your life. It's not easy being on the road and leaving your life behind. Your employees earn every frequent-flyer mile their business travel entitles them to. Those miles are theirs, not their employer's.

Any company stingy enough to steal its employees' frequent-flyer miles is not an employer that can grow your flame or take you to the next step on your path. Get them to change that Scrooge-y policy, or run away.

Stupid Dress Code Rules

We write dress code policies because we'd die of embarrassment having to talk to an employee face-to-face about his or her excessively club-by or beach-y attire. Too bad for us. We're managers, and sticky human topics are part of the job.

Get rid of the insultingly detailed dress code policy and simply remind your employees to dress for business.

You can add "If you're on the fence about whether or not to wear a particular ensemble or article of clothing to work, err on the side of caution and don't wear it."

Bell Curve Performance Reviews

Performance reviews in general are a bureaucratic waste of time, but the ones that force managers to fit their teammates into pre-set slots on a Bell Curve are disgusting and unworthy of the brilliant people on your staff.

If you truly don't trust your managers to hire wonderful employees, why did you make them managers? Bell curve performance reviews only encourage the hiring and retention of so-so employees, or worse. Get rid of them in 2015 and celebrate your team's briliiance!

Stupid Bereavement-Leave Policies

There are still employers that require their employees to bring in funeral notices in order to be eligible for a few days' paid bereavement leave. That's shocking and horrifying.

No doubt some employee way back when falsified a family death to get some time off, and ever since then the company has been writing its policies to prevent such a fraud from re-occurring.

That's idiotic, and heartless. It's never smart to write policies directed toward people you wish you hadn't hired. Trust your employees, and they'll trust you back.

Stupid Approvals for Everything

We'd expect any employer to require approval from higher-ups before you're allowed to spend a lot of money or hire someone new. We'd expect some required approval before you launch a project or put someone on probation.

Do we really need a manager's written approval for an employee to replace his ID badge?

We have taken nearly all the latitude away from the talented adults we hire. That's stupid and a waste of shareholder's money. More bureaucracy only slows us down.

Can we trust the people we chose to join our team to do simple things like order a new stapler without requiring a manager's written permission? If not, can we call ourselves leaders?

Stupid Disciplinary Rules

The idea of discipline comes from the military. We don't think that it would ever be appropriate to put our kids' piano teacher or our plumber on probation, so why would we do that to the employees on our teams? The idea of progressive discipline makes no sense in the Knowledge Economy we operate in now.

We are all adults. If someone goofs up, we can have a conversation about it. We can figure out where things broke down. If we don't trust a person to represent our brand, what good will probation or a written warning do?

Don't listen to people who say "We have to do this stupid stuff in order to fire people if they don't improve." That's completely false. I was a Fortune 500 HR SVP and I'm an expert witness in employment matters now. Anyone who sighs "We're forced to follow these old rules" is either lying to himself, to you, or both.

Stupid Feedback Mechanisms

Employee Engagement is a crock and a slap in the face to your teammates, most of whom would be happy to tell you to your face what your company is doing right and wrong. All you have to do is walk up to them and ask them, face to face, and listen to what they have to say.

Annual employee engagement surveys are a weenie's answer to the question "How are we doing, and how's the team?"

Do you ask your wife to fill out a survey and tell you how you're doing as a husband? She'd have a sharp answer for you if you proposed that approach.

Why should the valued collaborators you work with see things any differently? Lose the engagement survey and make it easy for your teammates to tell you what's working and what isn't, in the moment.

Stupid Hiring Processes

It's easy to fill job openings when you do these three things:

  • Write job descriptions in English or your local language rather than corporate zombiespeak.
  • Treat job applicants like valued collaborators rather than interchangeable machine parts or pieces of meat.
  • Make the interview process fast and friendly, and remember that job candidates need to be sold as vigorously as your customers do.

It's hard to fill job openings when you use Black Hole applicant-tracking systems to screen resumes by means of keyword searching.

That's the world's worst way to hire people. Any employer that complains about talent shortages is barking up the wrong tree. Humanize your recruiting process and watch the talented people flow in!

Stupid Forced Ranking

Forced ranking, sometimes call Stack Ranking, is a process of lining up your employees and comparing them to one another, Best to Worst. It's easily the stupidest idea corporate and institutional weenies have ever come up with.

You can't stay and work for a company that treats like you like a two-by-four stacked up against other pieces of lumber, not when there are wonderful organizations that could use your help!

Your teammates deserve better. People are unique and whole in themselves. There is nothing to compare between one person and another -- thank goodness! Smart employers have always known this. Any organization that doesn't get it doesn't deserve your talents. Get on your path and find the people who do!

Questions and Answers

Why are there hot dogs chasing people in the header image?

They are weenies driving smart and capable employees away. Weenie policies have the same effect. Capable people don't want to put up with being treated like children or criminals, so they leave to go work somewhere else.

Why do companies install so many stupid rules and policies?

Fear is the reason. Fearful managers don't trust themselves to hire people they could trust to do the right thing. There is a tremendous amount of fear in many corporations, institutions and startups. Small companies are not immune to fear.

How do you make an organization more trusting and less fearful?

Talk about fear and trust. They are business issues. Don't pretend there is no energy in the place or that every single person can't feel the energy. Ask your team at every opportunity, in group meetings and one-on-one "How are you doing? What's new? How can I help?"

Do you have to be a manager to tackle workplace energy, and fear and trust?

No! There are lots more non-managers in any organization than there are managers. We all feed Godzilla, the bureaucratic monster, or we all starve him. Tell the truth at work. Say "I'm not sure I know how to complete this project" when you are uncertain.

Break the ice on the topics of fear and trust. Tell your boss "Some of these policies suck away a lot of time and energy and hold us back. How can we revise them or get rid of them?" Blaming managers for the bad energy at work is the worst thing you can do. It depletes your mojo and reinforces the idea that you are powerless at work unless you're a manager.

Are you powerless? You don't look powerless to me!

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