Missed TurnEveryone reading this article handles people issues perfectly- yet we owe it to our less-perfect, well intentioned colleagues to share our wisdom in the area of people. To make it a little easier, I’ve captured what I believe are the Top 5 People Mistakes really smart people make in companies every day. (For solutions to these problems, make sure you check out our column in the Q3 issue.)

# 5. Too many policies.

Policies provide guidelines, but it can be easy to let policies run the company at the expense of creativity, people, and even common sense. They fall in the same category as warning labels and directions on products- they can be helpful but are often overdone. Managers are often the culprits of too many policies because it is much easier to say, “the policy says that you can’t have personal things on your desk;” than to talk specifically to George about the questionable memento of his Las Vegas trip on his shelf.

#4. Too few policies.

Most leaders relate to feeling ‘hamstrung’ by a particular rule in a prior organization and, as a result, many let the pendulum swing too far to the other side and give up policies all together. When that happens, employees become confused about exactly how to operate on very basic things (like vacation, working from home, taking an outside job) and productivity is lost to guessing. Additionally, federal and state governments require businesses to address some issues, and businesses that fail to do so become non-compliant.

#3. Improperly evaluating risk.

One of the primary jobs of HR is to manage risk, but not all risks are equal and the real issue lies in the costs and complexities of mitigation. Big or little, if the risk is easy to mitigate, then, by all means, mitigate! But sometimes, mitigation of the risk comes at a cost to the culture of the organization or the business goals. For example, there is a risk to providing different levels of pay to people doing the same job; however, especially in a small organization, it may be critical to retain people who perform at varied levels in the job while being inadvisable to give them separate titles. In this case, it may make very good business sense to pay the same position differently.

#2. Separating “HR” from the business.

Some business leaders I talk with view HR tasks almost as a stand-alone island and don’t consider how the HR practices support or hinder the business model. Even something as simple as a payroll cycle can be considered within the context of the business. For example, how will our chosen cycle impact our cash flow? What kinds of skills do we need for the business we do, and how do those people prefer to be paid? What is our likely turnover rate? If we have a high-burnout position, do we need specific pay practices to mitigate the administrative issues? As we move from payroll cycle questions into more strategic issues, it is critical to integrate HR questions into the mix.What kinds ofbonus plans will help reward the behavior we seek? How will employees know they are succeeding … or not?

# 1. Refusing to treat employees as adults.

To paraphrase Col. Jessup in A Few Good Men, most of us can handle the truth, but we’re afraid to talk about it. We know when we’re not performing or when business is down, but actually telling someone that he is not performing or that she is going to lose her position if we don’t see an increase in business is very painful. Often we “ostrich” and attempt to ignore the problem in the hope that it will go away. Maybe business will pick up? Maybe George will improve his performance? Maybe aliens will kidnap us so we won’t have to have the conversation?