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27 Nov '10

Compliance driven organizations

Posted by T.J. Addington in organizational culture
One can tell much about corporate and ministry culture by simply reading their policies. Up front, I want to be clear that policies  are a positive and necessary set of parameters for any healthy organization as they spell out what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior. Well written policies are boundaries that are not to be violated. Organizations without clear policies on HR, finance, relationships with vendors, conflict of interest for example, leave themselves open to behaviors and practices that can harm and bring disrepute.

Beyond the basic, clear policies, organizations either have a culture of trust or mistrust. Compliance driven organizations - those who often are mistrustful seek to write a policy for any possible infraction - or as the result of an infraction. Thus everyone gets punished for the sins of a few. Someone misuses their time card so additional layers of policy and compliance are put in place to ensure that no one does that again. The end result is often the opposite of what is desired - cynicism because everyone knows that instead of dealing with the offender, another policy has been put in place to keep everyone in place - not a place most people want to be.

Healthy organizations develop policies that specify the expected behavior of its employees, keep them to a minimum rather than trying to anticipate all possible issues, hire good people, trust them and if the boundaries are broken, deal with that individual.

The same is true in terms of church bylaws which are often written to prevent past sins (in someones mind) from occurring again. Never mind that in doing so, the congregation is communicating mistrust toward some group (by the way they hem them in) or person (senior pastors or chairperson) that hamper the organization in the present. Far better to deal with the problem person(s) than to write unnecessary boundaries into bylaws that are hard to change in the present or the future.

Writing a policy to keep behavior within bounds rather than dealing with the behavior is usually the easy way out whether expressed in personnel or bylaws. It can also be the cowards way out since it avoids dealing with the behavior of an offending individual(s) and instead tries to solve the issue through a policy - which seldom solves the underlying problem which is personal behavior.

Compliance driven organizations - who believe that there needs to be a policy or procedure for everyone and everything are operating from a culture of mistrust rather than trust, foster a legalistic rather than grace filled culture and mistakenly believe that compliance to their rigid procedures will keep them healthy. Actually, healthy people working in a culture of trust and grace will make for a healthy organization - not the other way around.

Write policies where you must. Keep them to a minimum - same with bylaws, and deal with problematic people where that is necessary. Before you write a new policy to solve a problem, ask yourself if it is necessary and how it will be perceived by those who were not a part of the problem. Compliance driven organizations may solve some perceived problems but they also can create cultures of mistrust and cynicism.