Good Policy Matters

Imagine the scene.  You are at a dinner party with several of your good friends.  Let’s assume it’s a fancy dinner party… the dinner is served on the fine china, the good silverware is lined up perfectly, the entire setting is beautiful.  And the children are running all over the house screaming at the top of their lungs, throwing baseballs, and the 3 year old is crying because her brother just dumped the ant farm on her head.  All this fits together right?

Of course not.  That would seem crazy to have chaos in the midst of order.  You wouldn’t let children run around doing whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it.  That’s why we have rules of behavior.  Things you should and shouldn’t do in certain settings.  We’d probably all agree that we wouldn’t want to go to that kind of dinner party, so why would we want to run a business this way?

What?  That’s right.  None of us want to work for a place where there are no rules.  It sounds like fun for a while, but eventually someone ends up with an ant farm dumped on their head.

I’m really not a “policy guy”.  As a matter of fact, I much prefer freedom over policy.  However good policies are really, really, really important. Here are a few examples.

1)  You should have a good hiring policy. – Hiring people (and firing people, by the way) is a big deal.  A lot happens when someone joins or leaves an organization.  Lots of people have to do stuff.  Security, IT, Finance, HR, Facilities, Communications, all probably have to do things when someone joins staff.  Now, I’m not saying that you have to give a full month’s notice before a new person starts, but a realistic “heads up” is nice.  Every company operates differently, but let’s just say it’s easier to prepare for a new employee if you have a full week  than if you find out the day the person starts.  And that happens.  All the time.  Everywhere.  It probably took you a while to find the right person to hire.  I’m guessing the world won’t come to an end if they don’t start until NEXT week.  I know you’re excited about this “perfect hire” you just made, and we’re all super excited to meet him/her;  but it will really help everything if we have a desk, chair, computer, paperwork, and maybe even a nice desk lamp for them when they arrive.  Otherwise we are sticking them in the closet for a week.  Nobody likes being stuck in a closet.

2.  You should have a good financial policy. – We’ve all been late on expense reports.  It happens.  But it shouldn’t happen all the time because your financial people will blow a gasket.  And they should.  It’s their job to take care of the money, and by the way that’s also your job.  Good financial practices are there to protect you and the organization.  If you let people do whatever they want with money eventually one of your employees is going to take the credit card and buy a circus.  Unless your core business is, well… I don’t know… the circus, this is a bad thing.   Financial people can be considered control freaks.  It’s not because they don’t like the circus, it’s because if they are good financial people, they will often have to show what they are doing to even bigger control freaks called auditors.  These people WILL blow a gasket if they find “circus” on a reimbursement.  So listen to your financial people.  They are there to keep you safe from scary auditors.

3)  You should have a good IT policy. – Look, no one wants to change their passwords.  You’ve used the same one for the past six years and it’s written on a sticky note on the side of your monitor.  Eventually though someone is going to get into your account and either 1) send viagra ads to your friends, 2) post embarrassing pictures on your Facebook wall or 3) steal confidential employee data.  Yeah.  These are all bad.  So, take care of your computer.  Follow whatever policies that your IT people have in place.  Trust me.

These are just a few and there are plenty more. You might also consider things like a social media policy, a facility use policy, a policy around intellectual property, etc.  So now that I’ve made the case that policy can be a good thing, let’s talk about the arch-nemesis of “Policy”.  Meet… “The Exception”

Merriam-Webster defines Exception as

ex.cep.tion noun \ik-?sep-sh?n\ – a case to which a rule does not apply

We all know “The Exception” as the guy who shows up at the formal office Christmas party in pajamas. No rule applies to him/her.  This person usually works in sales.  Regardless, the exception’s only function in life is to kill policy.

You have policy so that you can have order.  And here is the kicker.  Everything is not an exception.  Let me say that again.  Everything is not an exception.  If it is…policy is dead, the exception has won, and someone just sent viagra emails AND bought a circus.  All jokes aside, this is a big deal.  Policies need to be followed.  If everything is an exception, then you really have no policy and everyone does whatever they want.

So you ask… “What if I have a policy, but nobody follows it?”  Well, now you’ve got one of two things going on.  Both are bad, BUT both can be fixed.  Either your policy is the wrong policy OR someone in the organization needs to enforce it.

Let’s start with having the wrong policy.  If people are constantly “the exception”, take a good hard look at the policy.  Is it fair?  Is it realistic?  Do people need more training to be able to do this?  Start with you.  Ask people how they feel about the policy.  Get good feedback.  Correct where necessary.  Constantly improve.

If you’ve fine tuned the policy but it’s not being followed, you have another issue to solve.  In every organization, someone has to be the chief of police.  Someone where the buck stops.  It’s probably not you, and that’s okay.  Don’t try to become that person.  It will just frustrate you (because you don’t have the authority) and frustrate others (because they see it as a power play).  So find the person in the organization who CAN enforce policy and get them to understand why this is important.  Plead your case.  Explain the risks.  Make sense of it all.  If they value your input and value the organization, you have won the day.  If not, keep trying.  If it is important enough, it is your job to see it through.  If leadership is unwilling to do what is best for the organization, you have still done your part in making the organization better.  Sleep well at night.

So policy can be a good thing, but it’s not the best thing.  Above all, give grace…   None of us are perfect, and we’re going to mess up and be “the exception” from time-to-time.  Grace is huge.  Huge.  Always, always, always put people first.  Don’t let your policies rule you, let them guide you.  There is a big difference.  Grace make ALL good policy even better.  Remember Prov. 16:1-2 “We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer.”

Where have you seen good and bad policies?  What is the worst policy you’ve ever encountered.  I’d love to hear about it!

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