…because some thoughts are worth remembering
I enjoyed the first season of the podcast StartUp, because it reminded me so much of my time at LavaNet, a company I co-founded back in 1994. There was an episode where an error blew up into a public relations nightmare. One of the founder’s reactions was “we better set up policies going forward”, and I groaned.
The distinction is important because you need to make a deliberate decision as to what should be a policy vs. guideline, and your decision will reflect the corporate culture you are creating deliberately or not.
To me, policies are rules that codify the corporate attitude. Because they are rules, employees must obey them. It can be useful because consistent quality can be achieved through rolling out these rules, but it is a double-edged sword in that no single rule can reflect the nuance of different situations. Without appropriate level of training, it is easy for staff to then hide behind the rules to refuse service to customers or to avoid having to listen to changing customer needs.
To be able to have some level of consistency, it is important to have training based on a set of guidelines, rather than policies. They can reflect normal course of operations and act as a rule of thumb, but should the situation warrants it, the employees are trusted to think for themselves to uphold the spirit of the vision of the company.
Stating one’s philosophies as policies can be advantageous for when there are absolutes you want to stand by. In the case of internal policies, stating that you have an Open Door Policy, shows its importance, rather than open door attitude merely being a suggestion to managers. Legal mandates should be stated as policy, such as Harassment Policy, though the approach within the policy can have different guidelines based on respect for the employees. Some customer service communication and branding could be best presented as a policy when you want to show commitment, such as the No Busy Policy previously discussed.
It may sound easier for an employer to state everything as rules, but as most things, as my father used to say, “the easiest way is often not the right way”. I’ve seen many non-profits and government agencies and departments create one rule after another to prevent abuse and errors, but most end up backfiring because these rules rarely actually prevent intentional or unintentional abuse or errors, but punish employees who have been working well by burdening them with additional restrictions that prevent them from doing an effective job. Furthermore, it can demoralize your best staff, having the opposite affect. Errors do happen, and it is important to optimize system to catch those errors internally through streamlined procedures and well-designed forms. In my experience, consistent human errors that cannot be addressed well by systemic improvements are concentrated in a few number of problematic staff. Either they are not aligned with the corporate vision, and/or they require specific training to reduce these errors. It is best to analyse why the error is occurring (whether they know they have committed an error, etc.)
Through guidelines that respect the intelligence of your own employees, you can encourage them to perform in a way that reflects the vision of the company.
Photo: Honolulu, Hawaii