Policies are a crutch: heal thyself!

Friday, June 23, 2017

AME Author, Fulcrum ConsultingWorks, Inc. President since 1990

We all hate to hear those words. “It’s our policy. There’s nothing I can do.” It seems the vast majority of companies and problematic situations revert to those dreaded words. Why is that so common in dealing with both internal and external parties?

Simple. Companies don’t trust their employees to make good decisions, they don’t want to develop them to do so and acquire the needed confidence, and it’s just easier. Most people go away when they hear these words, "So let’s create policies! We pay our suppliers net 90 now, no exceptions! You don’t like it? Too bad!"

What do policies actually do? They are an attempt to shape the expectation of the second party in a potentially difficult situation. When someone tells you it’s their company policy to not give refunds after 10 days, or to not do business with small firms, or that they only fill high level positions from within, what they mean is: “we don’t want to discuss it with you, nor do we want to listen to you.”

Some companies argue that their policies are codification of their mission, vision, and core values. Those concepts, assuming you actually live them, are integral to your culture and decision-making. They do not need policies to reinforce them, as they are the way of life for your organization. Do you really need a policy that says employees must show up for work often and on time? And how does “we pay net 90, no exceptions” support your mission, vision, and core values? It doesn’t. It’s an arbitrary rule to force down the throats of suppliers – you know, that group of companies critical to your success.

So why do these things become policies? Again, if we trust our employees to make good decisions consistent with our objectives and values, we don’t need policies. Policies are a crutch for a company that doesn’t trust its employees, or that doesn’t have consistent business culture. You recite it when you choose, ignore it when you want.

Some of you are thinking right now “we need policies so we can defend ourselves against employee complaints” or “we need policies to comply with customer requirements.” Really? Work instructions and procedures, I understand. But policies? Do you honestly believe it is an optimal business decision in all cases that every supplier should be paid “net 90” regardless? Of course not.

Your challenge for this week: Look at a few of your company policies and ask how they bring value to your organization. If priorities, values, mission and vision were clear, would they still be needed? You likely say that you respect your employees, suppliers, customers, investors, and surrounding community.  If that is true, why are the policies needed? Perhaps you have some communication and training to do before you eliminate the policies, but that should be the goal.

Crutches help us stand when we are injured, but are not necessary when healthy. What steps can you take to cure the problems that make policies seem more important than employee development and judgement? Next time you prepare to write a policy, ask yourself what is broken that requires a crutch.