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Encouraging the Entrepreneurial Mindset with a Policy-less HR Practice

Starting a new job can be overwhelming. Typically, you’re handed a stack of paper discussing policies for every possible situation from promotions to dress code and everything in between. That’s not the case at Traction. Instead, new hires are handed a copy of the Traction Handbook, which explains Traction’s history and how values are at the root of everything the company does.

So, what are Traction’s policies? The answer is simple, there’s only one and it doesn’t need to be written down: don’t be stupid. For those that are accustomed to working in policy-driven environments, this might come as a bit of a surprise. However, Harvard Business Review reported that removing rigid HR policies can improve performance for most employees. Plus, it enables employees to rely on their own common sense. (Have you heard about the woman who was fired for calling 911 on a shoplifter?)

VP of HR Manu Varma strongly believes in a policy-less HR practice because he’s seen firsthand how restrictive policies can stunt employee innovation and limit a company’s potential.

A Policy of No Policies

“I think when we put policies in place, we’re looking at edge cases and painting everyone with the same brush,” explains Manu. “We’re already governed by provincial and federal statutes, so there’s no need to reiterate.”

In his time at Traction, Manu has seen the company scale from 30 employees to 330 with a thriving services business, while spinning out different product lines and ventures. “You can’t do that when you have policies that stymie the innovation,” says Manu.

Traction’s HR practice focuses on treating employees like people, who can be trusted to make the right decision. According to Manu, putting employees first and being values-driven, really means putting trust in the people you’ve brought on board to run the company. Working in an environment where trust comes first, enables the team to focus on their work and innovate.

When there are too many policies, employees aren’t enabled to operate outside of the black and white, and that doesn’t lend itself well to an entrepreneurial mindset.

Operate in the Gray

It’s hard to explain the benefits of working in a policy-less environment when most people have spent most of their careers working in organizations that emphasize exactly the opposite. But there are benefits for both the human resources department and the business at large.

Manu Varma
Manu Varma, People Person

For human resources, it removes the barriers that set the department apart as the group that enforces the policies and makes them a part of the business. “I think as an industry, HR needs to get its act together and stop being the ‘Policy Police,’” explains Manu. “HR professionals can bring more value if they stop documenting. It’s not engaging work for anyone that I would want to work with or for.”

For the rest of the organization, it ensures that everyone is treated as an individual. Taking a page from situational leadership, a policy-less practice enables employers to tailor the situation based on the individual, based on the context, based on the time of year, based on anything. It gives them the flexibility to make the appropriate decisions, and ultimately that’s what everyone wants.

With the ability to adapt to any situation, Tractionites are encouraged to trust their gut and their values to make the right choices. This is where Manu believes the entrepreneurial spirit lives; when someone isn’t bound by policies they can innovate. Without tying some of the brightest minds at Traction to a determined set of regulations, they were able to develop Traction Guest, Traction Complete and Traction Rec.

Ditch the Policies and Procedures

For those that think it’s impossible to operate in the gray in a policy-less work environment, Manu has one thing to say: “It’s possible.” If you’d like to learn more about how Traction’s scaled from 30 to 300 with a policy-less HR practice, check out Manu’s podcast the team from Great Place to Work Canada.

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