Have you ever heard someone say “I’m sorry, but that’s our policy”? I’ll bet you didn’t have a good reaction to that statement.
Too often we rely on policies to try and force compliance. What does it say about your workplace when your policy manual is full of bold, italic, underline and capital letters? Your policies are symptoms of your culture and I would argue the healthier your workplace culture, the less policies are needed.
Who has the biggest policy manual?
When I think about the various companies I worked for, they all had policy manuals. Hands down, the one at Rogers was the largest. It consisted of 2 four inch binders. Looking back now, I wonder why the organization felt we needed so many policies and directives. What did it say about the way employees were treated?
How policy manuals should support your culture
Lewis S. Eisen is the author of How to Write Rules that People Want to Follow. In our recent chat he highlighted three things you can do to have better policies.
- Write with an adult-adult mindset.
Your very first experience with rules may have come as a child at the dinner table: “No dessert until you finish your main course.” With this exposure, is it any wonder that many of our policies are written with a parent-child perspective? Employees, and customers, don’t want to be treated like children. They want to be respected.
Just as command and control is waning as a management style, your policy language also needs to shift away from this attitude. For example, “people must not be late for a meeting” has a very demanding tone. Instead, “we will not admit anyone who is late” is a non-judgmental statement of fact. How many of your policies contain words like must, mandatory, always, all, or never?
- Strip out any legislative language in your policies.
One of the reasons policy manuals have become bulky and onerous is because they contain information that is superfluous. There is no reason to include information that has already been decided at the Supreme Court level. For example, your organization should not be spending time coming up with the definition of sexual harassment. That has already been decided. The penalties for sexual harassment have also been legislated.
This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a mention in your employee handbook or training around sexual harassment in your organization to help your employees understand these definitions and consequences. But do they really belong in your policy manual? Lewis gives the example of doing our income taxes. When it comes time to fill in the forms, we don’t whip out the Income Tax Act. We use the little manual that comes with the form as our guidance. Policies should be organizational decisions only, independent of those already imposed upon us.
- Use Policies for the right reason.
Many organizations write policies instead of dealing with an issue. When you look at your policies do they represent a list of problems you’ve had in the past? Does a policy stating that expenses will only be reimbursed if they are submitted within seven days reflect an issue with accountability? Or is it a lack of teamwork that you’re now trying to enforce?
Have a look at your policies and reflect on the reasons why the policy was written. Are you hiding behind policies rather than coaching an employee to follow the values you feel are important for organizational success?
If you’re actively addressing the culture in your organization, take a hard look at your policies and the language used within them. Are you using an adult-adult mindset? Have you included policies that are redundant of existing laws? Do your policies reflect helpful organizational decisions or are they a proxy for people management? If you’d like more information about this topic or an opportunity to chat with Lewis go to www.perfectpolicies.org
If you need help understanding where your culture is right now, we can provide a tool to benchmark how your organization is performing. To learn more go to www.carolring.ca or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat.