On a recent flight to the Western States on business, I was joined by a group of women who were heading to Los Angeles for a trip to Disney. Based on their animated and excited conversations, I was not certain if this was a Bachelorette Party or friends that were all taking a childless vacation so that they could act like children themselves. What was clear was that this was a non-business function they were participating in together.
One of the women seemed intent on ensuring that all the women traveling together were recognizable to each other (and anyone else who saw them) by wearing and displaying a neon green t-shirt with some clever pun lettering across the front of it. This woman took it upon herself to ensure that all of the women in this party were properly outfitted and all wore the shirt the same way. She took note of which women had covered their T-shirts with any accessories (they were cajoled into removing broaches, dangling necklaces, etc.), which women were bold enough to wear a sweater over their neon green shirts (they too were “reminded” that they had agreed to wear the shirts unadorned and a little chilliness was a small price to pay for solidarity), and singled out one woman who was with the group, but did not choose to wear the T-shirt for some “chiding and kidding” that was delivered in “good fun,” but meant to express the displeasure in the choice of clothing.
This “ringleader” took her seat on the plane one row behind me and continued to monitor the behavior, clothing, and even reading material of her fellow passengers. My ears perked up though when another woman in her party asked her why she was so intent on making sure everyone was doing things exactly as she wanted given that this was a fun get-together and not so serious. Her response was very telling:
I am in HR – my r0le is compliance.
At What Cost?
While there certainly is a need for compliance within companies when it comes to certain things:
- legal requirements around hiring, promotions, performance reviews, etc.
- policies around the use of resources (computers, cars, telephones, etc.)
- Sharing of information (electronic files, paper files, product prototypes, strategic plans, etc.)
The idea of someone in Human Resources even joking about the mission or focus of her work being compliance strikes at the core of a key issue within business. No ethical company would encourage illegal behavior, but within those broad confines remain a tremendous amount of space for innovation, creativity, differentiation, and unique problem-solving opportunities. While I do not know where the woman works, and exactly what her role is within the company, her comment smacks of being driven by the wrong goals.
What is Needed
The rules of conduct within companies should be easy to understand and refer to by all. The ability of employees to be empowered to act in the best interest of the business should be the objective of every employer. Rather than establish a mini police-state with layers of officials tasked with oversight, monitoring, and compliance, businesses would be better served to ensure employees understand their role, managers are expected to manage, and leaders provide the impetus to allow the organization to move forward. The goal should be the REMOVAL of barriers to most actions, and not the establishment of additional hurdles to performance.