(Re)writing your company policies? Take these 3 steps

(Re)writing your company policies? Take these 3 steps

Were your company policies written for misbehaving toddlers?

Believe it or not, that’s how far too many policies and procedure manuals come across to employees.

Leaders often rely on policies that try to enforce compliance…

But, what does it say about your company culture when your manual is full of bold, italic, underlined, and ALL CAPS directives…?

It says you have work to do creating a winning workplace culture.

Company policies don’t (necessarily) lead to a healthy company.

It’s time for leaders to abandon efforts to ‘keep their employees inline’ with a company policy manual so heavy it could stun a team of oxen.

The “command-and-control” school of leadership is falling out of favour…justifiably so. Leaders have learned that “because I said so” might get a toddler to follow the rules near a hot stove, but it stunts the growth of their employees…and their company.

Your employees don’t want to be treated like children.

A few years ago I sat down with one of the industry’s leading policy architects, Lewis Eisen – author of How to Write Rules that People Want to Follow.

He highlighted three steps you can take to have better company policies. I want to share them with you here…

If you follow his lead, you’ll start inspiring success rather than mandating it.

3 steps for company policies that lead to a healthy company.

1. Write company policies with an adult-adult mindset.

We’re introduced to rules as children.

“No dessert until you’ve eaten your dinner.”
“No screen-time until you’ve done your chores.”

It’s no wonder so many of our company policies are written from a parent-child perspective. Do your employees want to be treated like children, or the highly-qualified, experienced people you hired to help lead and grow your company?

Your employees – and your customers – don’t need rules, they need respect.

So, instead of using demanding wording like this…

“People must not be late for a meeting.”

…use language that is less judgemental, such as…

“We will not admit anyone who is late for the meeting.”

Take a moment to browse your existing company policy manual. How many of your policies contain words like must, mandatory, always, all, or never?

2. Strip out the legislative language.

Want to know one of the most common reasons company policies have become so bulky and onerous? They contain information that’s superfluous.

You don’t have to include information that’s already been decided at the Supreme Court level.

For example, your organization shouldn’t be spending time coming up with a definition of sexual harassment. It’s already been decided…and the penalties have also been legislated.

I’m not suggesting you leave a clause about sexual harassment out of your manual. Every good organization has a handbook and/or training around the issue that helps your employees understand these definitions and the consequences.

But do the legislated policies belong in your manual? Probably not.

3. Use policies for the right reason.

Do your company policies represent reactions to a list of problems you’ve had in the past?

It’s a common practice. Organizations write a policy instead of dealing with an issue. Managers are tasked with enforcing the rules rather than drilling down to the source of the problem.

Take time to reflect on your policies…why were they written? Were they a quick-fix for a recurring misunderstanding, or misuse of resources, or were they creating a coaching opportunity for your employees?

Company policies reflect your company culture

I’ve often thought back to the two four-inch binders that held the ‘rules and regulations’ for Rogers back in the 90s. At the time, it seemed normal…

But after my years as a coach, I’m wondering what those two, massive binders said about our company culture at the time.

If your company policy manual is so long you only distribute it on a thumb drive or shared Google Doc to new recruits because you don’t want to waste a tree’s worth of paper…you might need to reevaluate where your organizational policies should end and your people management should begin.

Employees who are thriving in a robust, healthy workplace don’t need to hold your hand to cross the street. They’ve learned how to stop traffic and cross a six-lane highway, leading the rest of their team – and customers – with them.

That is if you’ve invested the time coaching them, not putting them in time-out.
If you want more information about writing company policies that will inspire your team, you can reach out to Lewis here.

If you want help understanding where your company culture is right now, I can provide a tool that benchmarks how your organization is performing right now – and guide you through the exercise of building a workplace fueled by inspiration.

Did you enjoy this article? Here are some more related articles:

Are the Best Workplace Cultures Really Pain-Free?
Was Organizational Culture Key to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Movement?
5 Top Tips You Need to Know in order to Change Company Culture

This article was originally published in 2019, and has been updated in 2020. 

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