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The Inextricable Link between Policy and Conversations that Don’t Happen

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Policies and Procedures. Every company, organization or group has got them. Some are almost unspoken, simply understood. Some, however, take a more formal appearance. They’re strung together and assembled in a handy manual of sorts. Many would argue that policies and procedures provide a strong foundation upon which an organization or company can stand. 

I’ve got a slightly different take. I assert that policies aren’t necessarily good or bad; they are, however, often formed too quickly and from a misguided intention. Policies are often put in place to “protect” the organization or company creating the policy. It’s a sort of “cover-your-butt” approach in an admittedly litigious world. I totally understand. While at a superficial level policies can provide clear direction for staff and employees about expectations, when you dig deeper what you find is that there’s usually a conversation that needs to happen -- and folks don’t want to take the time to do so. So they create a policy instead. 

I’ve seen this happen often enough to feel like it’s a pretty standard practice.  

  • An employee dresses in a manner that is inconsistent with the image that the company wants to present. Rather than talk to the individual, a “dress code” is created and distributed to all.

     

  • A safety violation is observed in a manufacturing plant. Rather than speak to the individual(s) responsible, a general reminder of the existing policy -- or a renewed “tightened up” policy is disseminated.

     

  • A concern is raised about the finer points of newly released labour regulations. Rather than have an organization-wide conversation to clear things up and build understanding, a policy is developed to address every possible eventuality; employees are asked to review and comply.

     

This list could go on ad nauseum.  

Let me be clear; I’m not saying that policies and procedures aren’t useful. Sometimes they are. That being said, if you look at the above scenarios, what you’ll notice is that in every case there’s a way that the conversation gets skipped over and a policy created instead. Often, the creation of policies is nothing more than an avoidance strategy  -- because the conversation that’s needed is likely to be a messy one. 

The challenge is this: when a policy is created in response to the actions of ONE individual, or a mere handful of individuals, the issue isn’t really addressed. Instead, it’s bandaged. I know many of you can relate to the scenario where you choose to have a general conversation with the team, rather than with a specific individual involved -- and the individual couldn’t care less. Nothing changes on his or her part -- but the rest of the team becomes fearful, wary, or hesitant.  

When policies are created without the foundation of meaningful conversation, however well-intentioned they might be, those policies become cumbersome at best. At worst, they become ineffective and fodder for in-house mockery. 

Bottom-line: to share the wisdom of one of my colleagues, policies and procedures are often the scar tissue of conversations that never happened. Have the conversations; get real about what matters. Only after you’ve done that, will your policies have any value.