Lead With Trust — A Journey in Becoming Policy Light

Peer Practices
Written by Linda Luty

Susan Kelliher

Chief People Officer

The Chemours Co

Most organizations use their policies as a way to ensure compliance with laws and regulations and achieve company goals. But in today’s environment, is policy leading to over-policing the workforce, who would often do the right thing regardless of policy?

Susan Kelliher, chief people officer at Chemours, is paving the way toward being “policy light” by favoring guidelines over policy, an endeavor that is working to great effect. A chemical manufacturing company spun out of the DuPont Company with over 200 years of history may not be the first to come to mind when thinking of innovative human resources strategy, but they are seeking to do things differently.

“We've really challenged ourselves to live up to our tagline, which is ‘We're a different kind of chemistry company.’ The things that we've done around being more trusting of our employees are very much in line with the kind of different company that we want to be,” said Kelliher.

Dress for Your Day, Flex for Your Day

When Kelliher joined Chemours, she was asked to create a dress code; reflecting on what that would look like, she realized that, in all the time they’ve operated, no one has shown up in inappropriate attire -- so why introduce rules when the workforce has already proven they can be trusted to make good decisions? 

“A world in which dress codes aren't prescribed, where we allow people to be more casual, where we allow people to make their own choices, creates an environment where people are more creative,” said Kelliher.

It also sets the tone for something that we deeply believe as a company: to aspire to be a great place to work. What makes a great place to work is feeling you can trust the company, and the leaders in it, to say and do the right thing. And that you feel that the company trusts you to do the same.”


The same sentiment applies to flexible work schedules. “We're not going to create specific types of ‘flexible work schedules.’ Instead, we are simply going to ask you to work with your managers and colleagues to flex for your day,” she said.

“Flex for your day is successful because we understand that everyone is a whole person and has a life outside of Chemours, and we also understand that our employees are trying to do the right thing.”

Kelliher continues, “So, why would we create rules and policies that might make work harder, or give people less flexibility? What we really have to do is just be careful of the 1% who will abuse it, but we shouldn't build things with them in mind.”

Operating With Integrity

Like many organizations, Chemours adopted a special leave program in the beginning of COVID-19 to ensure their employees were able to stay home if sick or exposed without fear of lost wages. Not only were there zero cases of COVID-19 traced back to the workplace, they had less than a dozen cases of abuse of the generous leave policy -- further demonstrating that trust was not misplaced.

“Our employees absolutely demonstrated they could fully be trusted. We didn't need to create structure around people proving they were exposed or asking for doctors’ notes. We simply said these are the guidelines, and we trust you to use them when appropriate,” said Kelliher.

Unshakable integrity is one of Chemours’ five values, and reflected in its code of conduct, and using this as their guiding principle, they are able to address the few abuses that have arisen without issue -- even without formal policy in place.

Relying on the code of conduct for disciplinary action or offboarding an individual who is not demonstrating their values is far less complicated than it sounds, even when layering in the complexity of employing union workers.

“We've had this come up in sites that had union representation, and we've taken the same approach and worked well with our unions. They understand and want their members to be safe, trusted and treated fairly,” she said.

We don't want the 1% who may take advantage to damage the credibility of the 99% who do the right thing.”


What’s Next?

Eliminating policy in favor of flexible guidelines is not a move that many organizations are willing to make, but Kelliher has some advice for those looking to venture into a “policy light” model: start with the easy things.

The “easy things,” like eliminating dress codes and trusting employees to work for their day without micromanagement, may require a culture shift for many organizations, but the impact on employee experience and engagement are worth the work. Leading with trust and accepting that all employees are whole people shines a light on the unique needs and perspectives they bring to the business. This creates a culture aligned to the values of a great place to work.

Looking forward, Kelliher would like to explore changes to paid time off and performance ratings, but it is important to first understand if that will make a cultural impact in a positive way. Taking the time to understand the needs of existing and future talent is the crux of why Chemours is approaching policy through an employee-centric and trust-based guideline model.

“We’re open to change, and I think the key thing is, it starts with listening and understanding where your employees' heads are, and in particular thinking about what the next generation of talent needs to thrive,” said Kelliher.

“At Chemours, we start with our five values – customer centered, collective entrepreneurship, refreshing simplicity, unshakeable integrity and safety obsession. With those as the foundation for how we work, we can be more policy-light and create a great environment for our employees.”


Special thanks to Susan Kelliher and The Chemours Co.

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