Ah policies. Where would we be without them? Was there ever a time we didn’t have them? Are there some cave paintings in the South of France that detail when early man could go out and hunt and gather? If there is, was it because some half-wit named Og went about doing it all wrong? I wouldn’t be all that surprised because policies are a direct by-product, a derivative, of people being stupid. Policies exist because people need guard rails. Policies exist because someone, somewhere thought it would be a good idea to do (blank), when in fact it wasn’t. I heard someone say once that all a company really needs is one, four-word policy: “Do the right thing.” Ah, wouldn’t that be nice?
If John Lennon’s “Imagine” were remade today, we could include a line: “no more bare butts on copiers, no more grabbing people’s behinds. No more no-shows or no-calls, no more break areas with orange rinds… You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Let’s have no policies, and work would be so much more fun.”
Or, maybe not.
Don’t get me wrong, policies serve good purposes. They provide guidelines and protections for the company. They help maintain a level of consistency, and thus can help keep you out of legal hot water, but they can also make me develop an unsightly rash.
Too often managers get caught up in management by policy. “Let the policy do the dirty work for me,” they say to themselves. Or: “I don’t want to be the bad guy…” Or, “sorry, it isn’t me – it’s the policy. Can we still be friends? At least on Facebook? You post the funniest videos!”
No one said managing would be easy – that is why you get paid the big bucks. Or at least have that really cool title.
But this spills into a greater problem. Let’s say you have a weird situation involving an employee, do you:
a.) Talk to the employee, tell them to stop being stupid, maybe have them sign something (or at least make a note for your records) and then get back to work; or do you:
b.) Go to HR, and tell them that you need a policy to deal with this situation?
If you chose a., you made me happy. If you chose b., you are probably more honest and/or don’t care about making me happy.
If you do find yourself creating a policy, whether it is there to deal with a specific situation, or maybe it is something that is far more broad, just remember that once it is created you essentially have to stick with it, regardless of who breaks the policy. If you don’t, you have: 1.) essentially made the policy null and void, 2.) potentially set yourself up for trouble with all the other people who were disciplined because of the policy in question, and 3.) you also run the risk of making your HR person unhappy – and no one likes an unhappy HR person. Then again, no one likes an HR person, whether they are happy or not, so I’d just stick with 1 & 2.