Policies are a course or principle of action adopted by a business or individual. In human resources, we’re often accused of having too many policies. But policies are what keep everyone on the same page so, the answer isn’t for HR to have fewer policies. Well, maybe it is. The real goal is to have effective policies.
There are three primary reasons that policies exist. First, they keep us in compliance. If there is an activity we are expected to do, then we create a policy to make sure that it gets done. The policy isn’t a control mechanism as much as it’s a reminder. Second, policies keep us on top of trends that are taking place. Good examples are social media policies or bring your own device (aka BYOD) policies. Lastly, policies are a way to inform others. A policy can address commonly asked questions.
How to create a policy
When an organization is considering some sort of communication about a process or task, they should ask the question, “Does this warrant creating a policy?” Review the reasons a policy exists to decide if creating a policy is the right thing to do.
If creating a policy is the decision, spend some time researching what should be addressed in the policy. Think about the questions that employees have asked in the past or would be anticipated. For example, a company creating a leave of absence policy is going to want to address the common questions employees ask (i.e. doctor’s notes, payroll, insurance, return to work, etc.) The goal of the policy is to provide answers and reduce the fear of the unknown.
Make them visual. Use images, flow charts or decision trees to convey the way a process works. Sometimes as much as we think we are being clear with our written words, a picture makes more sense. If it aligns with your culture, consider creating “video policies” that allow an employee to listen to someone explain the guidelines.
One of the best examples I can share is the U.S. Air Force’s web posting response guide. (IMAGE LINK) Basically, it’s a decision tree that tells users when to respond, monitor, or ignore comments on the web. Instead of writing a multi-page policy, this one-sheet visual guide can answer questions. Employees could post it on their cubical wall for easy reference.
Share them with employees. Speaking of explaining policies, have a plan to communicate policies to employees. Some will be covered in orientation. Others will be covered by managers during staff meetings. And new policies will require a distribution and communication plan. The goal of a policy isn’t to create it then keep it a secret.
There are a couple of ways to communicate and distribute policies. One way is via mobile apps, like PeopleDoc, where employees can have access to policy information whenever they need it. Another might be file storage applications, which could provide a temporary solution for storing information.
Keep them current. Once a policy is created and communicated, it needs to remain current. Changes in laws will prompt policy updates. Changes in technology might require eliminating a section in one policy and adding a new one. Organizations should create a schedule to regularly review their current policies to ensure compliance and update as necessary.
For example, if we use the leave of absence example mentioned above, a review of the policy might bring to the surface a need to discuss topics such as sending get-well or congratulations gifts to employees on leave or granting breaks to nursing mothers.
Outcomes of a well-designed policy
Employees don’t necessarily want to come to HR or their manager for the answers to every little thing. But they do want answers. Our job is to teach employees how to be policy “navigators.” This involves educating employees on:
How to find policies within the system
How to read and understand policies
Where to go when they have questions about the policy
This will not eliminate the need for human resources or managers. When employees come with questions, the good news is they will be really good questions because they’ve done their homework. That’s when companies know a policy is effective. When employees get answers, they spend more time focused on their work.
Sharlyn Lauby is the HR Bartender and president of ITM Group Inc., a South Florida based training and human resources consulting firm focused on helping companies retain and engage talent.
Sharlyn sees human resources as a strategic partner - the marketing department for a company’s internal clients rather as administrative. During her 20+ years in the profession, she has earned a reputation for bringing business solutions to reality.
Prior to starting ITM Group, Sharlyn was vice president of human resources for Right Management Consultants, one of the world’s largest organizational consulting firms. She has designed and implemented highly successful programs for employee retention, internal and external customer satisfaction, and leadership development. Publications such as Reuters, The New York Times, ABC News, TODAY, Readers Digest, Men’s Health and The Wall Street Journal have sought out her expertise on topics related to human resources and workplace issues.