In this blog Nicky Ingham, Chief Executive at Nicky Ingham and Associates Limited and Executive Director at HPMA discusses what traditional HR approaches look like and the dangers associated with taking an overly traditional approach. She suggests taking a more just approach to enact HR policies and reflects on her work with Mersey Care NHS Foundation in the development of a restorative just culture approach.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you worked in an organisation with no HR policies? I am minded of the recent publicity surrounding Octopus Energy, who have no HR dept as their CEO wants their employees to ‘feel free’? Are we, as workforce professionals, getting in the way of a common sense, people-centred approach?

For such an approach to work, one must ask whether there is enough common sense in an organisation, or how would we ensure consistency of approach from one person to another? However, do we create bureaucracy as workforce professionals, hiding behind policies as if they are our safe comfort blankets in areas of challenge or conflict?

Applying a just culture approach is not an approach which says you can just dismiss someone – a restorative culture approach is something quite different, it puts the person at the centre and asks, ‘who is hurt’, rather than who is to blame. A just culture supports consistent, constructive and fair evaluation of the actions of staff involved in incidents, being able to explain the approach that will be taken by an organisation when an incident occurs. Very often, our human response dictates to us that someone must be to blame for an error or incident to have occurred, which is the reactive response in a world where we have little time for thinking. However, if we did take that deep breath, sit back, reflect, and talk to those involved about how they are feeling, would the outcome be different?

I have had the fortune to work with Mersey Care, an NHS Trust who has been on a Restorative and Just Culture approach, for over 6 years and continue to learn as they develop their culture further and grow as an organisation. Their approach has really challenged my thinking, reflecting on my practice as a workforce practitioner over the last 29 years, and questioning whether outcomes would have been different if a different lens had been worn. I think the answer is probably yes for some of those cases, and yes, I feel a range of emotions that is right that I feel.

Life is complex, human beings are complex, and we are all different. Policies are designed to support and guide everyone in managing situations, but do they? They can be retributive in their language, perceived as the protection for the organisation to ensure they are doing the right thing, but are they? HR policies can cause a lot of hurt by their very implementation, so I want us to Stop and Think, applying a restorative lens to our practice and encouraging that initial step of finding out how a situation has felt for those involved, what support do they need, and how can we all learn from what happened?