June 3, 2019

How to build a strong HR policy without impacting culture

In the life of any business, there comes a time when a new HR policy needs to be introduced. This formal idea can scare a lot of business owners and managers. Those who worry that making a change could lead to a loss of morale or even resignations. If you’re concerned about a new HR policy, we’ve put together a guide on implementing change without impacting workplace culture.

Explain why the HR policy is necessary

Generally, most people like nothing less than change for change’s sake. And that’s compounded a million times over when change impacts them for the worse (or at least perceived as worse).  At the same time, people tend to respond quite well when they’re given context. So if you do intend to introduce a new HR policy, explain precisely why the introduction and the effects. When you do, it’s important that you’re delicate but also rational – point out the benefits of the new approach and deal in facts, not emotion. And, if you’re introducing the policy because of the actions of one person, or a few people, be sure not to point fingers.

Address the real source of the problem

That said, if you’re introducing organisational change on the back of the behaviour of one or two people, ask yourself is: it really necessary at all? If it’s not, you’re likely to save yourself a whole lot of trouble. For instance, if one person is abusing your annual leave policy, would you be better off taking the issue up with them in a one-on-one chat rather than developing and enforcing a new policy across your whole organisation? If you do choose the second path, you’re likely to be seen as “punishing all for the sins of the few” and this won’t go down well – for you, or for the offenders. So be proportionate and make sure any change is coming from the right place.

Take ownership

Again, employees never like it when bosses fail to take ownership of something they do. And, when it comes to a new HR policy, that can come in many forms. It could be leaving it to more junior staff members to announce and police the change. (Always do it yourself.) Or, it could be taking the approach of applying the policy to others but not to yourself. (For instance, if you restrict people’s ability to work from home, you really need to come into the office each day too.) Finally, it could be avoiding difficult situations or confrontation and just emailing a decision you’ve made out to everyone as a fait accompli. (Fortune almost always favours the brave.) Whatever you need to do, make sure the buck stops with you.

Communicate, communicate and communicate again

I firmly believe the key to most things in life is communication – and just as importantly, keeping the lines of communication open. One of the worst things you can ever do when introducing a new HR policy is to attempt to shut down discussion or fail to engage. Make sure people know your door is open if they want to talk it through. If they come to you with reasons why your new policy shouldn’t apply to them, be compassionate but stay firm. After all, inconsistency is always the enemy of sound HR practices. Only by applying a policy in a fair but uniform way will it ever become part of the fabric of your business.

Be prepared

Finally, be prepared for some blowback when the policy comes in. No doubt you’ll face pressure from employees to change your mind and maintain the status quo. However, if you want to maintain the respect of your workforce and keep the culture strong, it’s always vital you stay firm. Rehearse what the objections are likely to be, and what your response to these will be also. Make sure your managers and team leaders are aware of how to answer any questions too. By keeping the message consistent and being prepared to explain your reasoning, you’ll go some way to preventing the worst kind of fallout from happening.

Just remember

Implementing a new policy without ruining your culture may be difficult, but by following these four principles you’ll be on your way to making it happen. If you’d like some help implementing a new HR policy in your workplace, then please, get in touch.


say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

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