Thursday, July 9, 2015

When not to write new organizational policies

In my experience, organizations often have too many policies and policies that reflect a general distrust of staff. It is always interesting to read the policies of organizations that I am helping because they usually give me insight into the problems that they have had in the past (solved of course by a new policy) and the general level of trust and empowerment in the organization, often low.

Here is something to remember. Policies reflect an organization's culture but do not create culture. People create culture and policies reflect whatever culture is created. While policies are obligatory for any organization how and why they are written sends a message to staff.

Here are some reasons not to write new policies.

One: Someone has done something dumb (It happens)! The answer is not to write a new policy but to deal with the individual who has crossed a line. It is unfair to other staff to establish policies based on one individual's bad choices. No policy can keep people from doing dumb things. Deal with the individual rather than write new policy.

Two: You want to deal with an issue of organizational culture. Culture of organizations is a matter of leadership rather than of policy. I can create a culture that avoids gossip but I cannot write a policy to do the same. Some issues are issues of leadership and modeling rather than of policy.

Three: You feel a need to control what people do and do not do. If we have a need to control people we are either poor leaders or have hired poor staff. Mostly it is the former rather than the latter. The longer a policy manual the more there is usually a desire to control rather than empower. 

In our organization, there are periodically issues that remind us that we need to clarify issues with our far-flung staff. What we rarely do is write a new policy. Rather, we create dialogue on the issues so that they filter through the organization. For us, it is about creating a healthy culture with healthy leaders, staff and teams. Only when necessary do we write a new policy.

Always remember that policies reflect culture. They do not in themselves create culture. It might be instructive for all of us who lead to have an outsider read our policies and give us feedback as to what they see. In one church I consulted with I suggested that their policies reflected a great distrust of support staff. Reading them through that lens they agreed with me. They had used policies to do all three of the above named issues rather than to simply spell out their non-negotiables and commitments. 

Posted from Oakdale, MN

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