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19 Dec '13

When not to write new organizational policies

Posted by T.J. Addington in policies
Policies are necessary tools in order to ensure fairness, clarity and legality. That being said, there are times when it is not helpful to write new policies. I would suggest that the more policies proliferate in an organization the less healthy the organization. Here are some reasons not to write new policies.

Someone did something they should not have done so we write a policy to ensure that it does not happen again. This is the genesis of many new policies but think about this: Because one staff member did something dumb, everyone is now bound by an unnecessary policy when what should have happened is that the individual situation was dealt with. Deal with individuals who do foolish things rather than write a policy that applies to everyone. Sometimes writing new policies rather than dealing with the individual is the cowards way out of an important discussion that needs to take place.

We want to control behaviors so we write policies. The problem is that policies do not control most behaviors. If you hire the right people who have the right motivations you have no need to control their behavior with policies. You cannot write enough policy to cover all potential behaviors and it is futile to do so.

One can read an organization's policy manual and chances are that policies that seem to be no brainers, that feel controlling or paternalistic were written in reaction to some situation which should have been handled with the individual rather than for all.

Policies are designed to ensure that an organization operates within the law, that people are treated fairly and with due process, that money is handled ethically and that the highest moral and ethical standards and expectations are understood by all. Good policies are simple, clear and kept to a minimum. When tempted to write new policies because a staff member has done something foolish, ask yourself, could I handle this with the individual rather than write new policies? 

From time to time it is wise to review one's policies and ask the question as to whether specific policies are really necessary.