What is Policy and Why is it Misunderstood?

Policy’s Relevance

Most of us know that policy is important in the running of a company or group, as it lays out the rules and regulations that need to be followed so that things function properly.  And it clearly affects all of our lives in a myriad of ways from the forms that must filled out in a government office, to the rules governing open heart surgery, to the building a building or the running of a nation. 


And it’s there for a reason; as it represents the guidelines of how an organization should  operate in order to get the job done or solve its problems.  Policy also keeps the group ethical and productive, reminding them of the companies purpose and mission, along with governing what is considered appropriate conduct for the group.


Policy also affects the technologies we use, so that they work for us and not against us. It sets forth guidelines so groups members understand how they are to function so the company succeeds and prospers.  In other words, like the rails along a train track, it keeps the train on the track.


But how do get we people to willingly follow policy?  If it’s truly beneficial to a groups success … why does there seem to be confusion, disagreement, lack of coordination, and a lack of use of policy in many organizations?


First Rule of Policy is that it Must be Good Policy

Good policy always connects back to or ties into the ‘purposes’ of a group or activity. And if it is good…it will also be ‘workable’.

Purpose is why the group is there in the first place, the reason for the product or company’s existence, and what they stand for. But the key is that purpose must be higher in scope than policy, represent a higher ideal that fuels the reason for the company and why they produce what they do. Purpose aligns with what the company stands for and what value their service or products have for others or the culture at large.


So when policies come out of these higher purposes…they automatically help to forward the purpose of the group or area they advise, and will also help to further the group’s mission; meaning good policy helps something function better so it can reach its goals. Correctly stated policy represents the quality of a product or the ideal outcome of an activity, and helps the group stay a group. And if its good policy, it works.


It works because it has been tested and proven to be needed in order to keep the show on the road. So policy that comes out of these higher values will always help the group survive better on many levels, both materially and philosophically.


Ah, But You Say…

“I have many staff that work from home remotely… how does this realistically relate to them”?

Even if they are independent contractors, remote staff need to know what is important to the owner or CEO of a company or non-profit; and to feel commitment to the company’s values and how management wants things done.


Obviously there are legalities that apply to independents that aren’t the same as hired employees. But those holding remote positions who would like to be long term players…should to be able to represent the spirit of the group or company’s polices in how they approach their work; and as a result will feel more affinity for the group and what it stand for, as they feel they are actually more a part of it…whether they sit in an office across town or across the nation.


There may be various viewpoints on what can and cannot be expected of part time, full time, in-house employees or remote staff, whether full or part time. But one thing is sure, whatever brings competence, dedication, loyalty and cooperative help to the team…should be used to acquire these important attributes. As they, along with good management, will be what holds the organization together through thick and thin in the long term, whether a staff of three or three thousand.


The key being that anyone who is going to interact with your staff on an on-going basis, whether administrative, technical or managerial, should feel some responsibility for and with their team mates. And part of achieving this is to have well-thought out policies that are relevant to their position, along with other general policies that affect group standards and conduct.


Isolation VS. Participation

So this putting everyone on the same page at the outset…really affects group viability and gives the ‘remote mate’ a better chance of longevity in the company, as he will be more in-sync with his team mates – this being in-sync very possibly being even more important when working at a distance. And as a result he/she will feel less isolated and disconnected, but a part of  the group.


In fact there is a good argument that says that its even more important for remote workers to be aware of and not be hired unless in agreement with staff policies first. As they are in many ways, on-their-honor while working remotely, not having to check in everyday as other in-house staff do, coming face-to-face with their team mates and management. So their understanding of your values (expressed in policy) should have agreement early-on.


Bottom line: if you want high caliber staff, remote or otherwise, hire only those who will give more than lip-service to management about your company’s values, by demonstrating their ability to work well with other staff, producing high quality work, and showing that they admire what your company stands for thru prudent use of policy.



The Ethnic of the Group

Policy also represents the code of conduct that each team member should apply, as this helps to bind the group together – as a team. Practical policies that act as guidelines for staff become a *stable datum for each individual, giving them a sense of pride in their job as well as what the group ideal is. Good policies become the *ethnic of that particular group, and in time simply, “this is the way we do things around here because it works.”   This group agreement on how to operate, brings power to the group by building unity in them, that shows in their daily morale, and ultimately how the company is perceived by the world.


As unity and group strength are palatable commodities to others out in the world, and they tend to want it when they see it being successfully demonstrated.  So the policy oriented CEO is also creating a good example to other companies in the world, by showing how good policy brings better coordination, long term success and a team with very high morale!


So good policies bind the team together, represent the company’s values through guidelines that create group stability, which then allows the company to flourish through time.



Policy Must Be Understood

Ever hear this before…”well I think these policies are a bit complicated and I don’t know that they’re really relevant in today’s world.  Shouldn’t I be putting my time into just learning the job? ”


This person does not agree with your policies and is telling you that they don’t think they (the policies) have anything to do with their job. At least they think that is the reason they don’t agree with them, after only a brief glance on their first day.


Now of course a bright person will see something that doesn’t make sense to them and indicate that they don’t understand so-and-so aspect of a policy…because they want to understand it. Whereas the not-quite-bright will simply ignore what they don’t get, as full understanding is not really important to them, their main objective being to robotically learn the steps of their job, never dreaming that their its success may also be tied to the correct application of staff policy.


So one of the unfortunate aspects of someone not really caring about these group *mores, or some of the finer points of a company’s values, is that their heart is not fully in what they’re doing. And further, they tend to operate on ‘automatic’ most of the time never being fully present.  And since ‘being present’ is one of the hallmarks of a good team member…they cannot be considered ‘true’ members of the group but merely a physical presence; someone who is going through the motions but not entirely engaged. Therefore the philosophy that sits behind the reason for policy is lost on them.


The misunderstanding of the ‘what’ and ‘why’ something exists, can cause  disagreement, confusion or rancor in people – as they do not see the connection between policy and their job. And because this is an unhandled issue with them…they are usually not aware of how it renders them unable to give 100% of their attention to what they’re doing, let alone appreciate the values of the company that is paying them. 


So as a result of not being fully present, part of them is mentally protesting being asked to apply policies they don’t understand the reasoning for. So there is also the liability of some unwarranted criticism emanating from them to others in the group, as there is a tendency to become critical of those things we don’t understand.


What’s the Solution?

The way to make policy understood is to put it in writing using clearly stated language. The rule being that if a 12 year old cannot read and easily understand it, you know that its presentation may be too complex or the language used too complicated.  For we don’t embrace that which we don’t understand.


Policy is there to help the organization succeed and even flourish.  But if the theory behind it is not understood – for its actual meaning – it can be seen as useless, or worse – dangerous, (to those so inclined), because they do not truly understand its relevance. So the best way to avoid this is to present it in bite size chunks that are easy to assimilate. 


As there is usually procedure represented in policy that affects many of the positions held in the organization, meaning those who are producing the company’s product or service; rebelling against, or flat-out not using one or more policies can result in chaos in the areas where it’s not being applied…and just plain bad results from the person not using it.


This chaos may not be been seen right away, but eventually will result in failed delivery, mistakes, or a failed something in the group… and some form of mop-up action will eventually have to be undertaken to make up for the damage that was brought-on thru neglect of applicable policy.


A Shared Perspective

Here’s one perspective that could be shared with another: if you’re building a building, wouldn’t you want to have a blue print, some guidelines of how you were going to build it?  And wouldn’t you want to know the rules and regulations affecting the building of it… what you were allowed to do and not allowed to do, and what codes you were to follow, etc.? 


Well you had better want to know and use whatever city codes, policies, and various instructions indicated in the blueprint … or your building may not properly stand, and you may find yourself in trouble with the city government ans other regulatory bodies, let alone the fact that you do not have a fully functional and safe building.


So like building a proper building, a group must know how to create quality products and services and understand the company’s standards (policies) and how they relate to this accomplishment, and how the use of relevant policies help to bring about group viable through coordinated production and coorperation.


Policies Must be Known

Beautifully written policies sitting in binders hidden on a shelf somewhere that no one ever sees, is policy that will never be used. It must be made known to one and all by whatever method is most expedient, and allow people easy access to it so they can refresh their understanding of it to help themselves or their associates.


For instance new staff should be given a copy of all policy that pertains to their particular position and its function, when given their job description or embarking on staff training; along with directions to the company library that contains all company policy on or off-line, not only so they are aware of policy that pertains to other company positions that they may interact with, but so they are aware of general policy that pertains to all who work there.


Happy Families

If it is a family, (which technically falls under the category of a ‘group’) whose parents want more cooperation and happy, responsible children; a simple list of things that children can agree on will help the group operate more smoothly as a family unit.

Chores, routines, tasks that they can rewarded for doing them well, including a code of conduct or set of values that the parents wish to live by, may also be included, as these will help raise sibling responsibility by allowing each child to become true participating members of the group. This also goes a long way toward abbreviating the tendency of some teens wanting to hole-up in their rooms like hermits for the duration…:)  As they will see themselves as important, participating members of, and not merely spectators of, the family group.


This list of household chores, homework, or desired conduct can be posted on a bulletin board, etc., and even be written-up by one of the children to give them a higher sense of participation thus raising their morale. And it allows them to take pride in the fact that they were the one to help write or post the rules themselves. So they will be much less likely to rebel in the future as they will see themselves as functioning members who are proud of their contributions to the family, wanting family unity just as their parents do.


Parents fit into this category too, as its important that they do not blithely make promises to children they don’t intend to keep, as this will be seen as a betrayal and sets an example that one does not need to follow through on things or keep one’s word. So children will respect family rules or responsibilities where parents do their best to keep their word also, by following through on any clearly stated promises, just as they expect their off spring to do.



The World We Live In

In a world that’s becoming more careless about such things, the above can make a difference in a child’s values as he or she grows. As children are, after all, ‘people in small bodies’, who will one day become participating members of society to the degree they’ve been allowed to contribute to the family when young. And those who have seen family rules that also have rewards attached to them (where appropriate) and who know they have benefited from them… will have an easier time later as adults when entering the work world.


But if polices, whether for a company, family or any size group…are not made known in the first place, and are not made available where everyone can see them as a friendly reminder… eventually children, employees, associates, etc., will find themselves feeling harangued verbally by those in charge. With the one doing all the haranguing –  usually management or those in charge – feeling that  ‘no one seems to even know the policies around here, let along follow them…’ grumble, grumble…


Bottom Line

So if policy is not being used, is not fully appreciated as valuable and useful to the group; these are symptoms of policy not being seen as ‘good’ policy; or workable policy that is based on real purposes, or that it is not being presented in an easy to understand way, or that its not being made known so all have easy access to it for referral if needed. And if you can make individuals feel a part of policy by allowing them contribute to it in by showing on paper a need for additional policy that has the greater good in mind, so much the better. As now it won’t be just  ‘the bosses policy‘ but ‘their policy’ too.


And one more point should be added to this: is that policy should be made known with the expectation that everyone will read it and apply it. As it is part of managements job – to make this expectation known.


When these policy rudiments have been successfully grooved in, you will find that the vast majority of people in any group will not only embrace good policy, but use it to their and everyone’s else’s benefit. As they will see that company viability – and their own job – are connected to the intelligent use of it.  Eventually realizing the policy does indeed represent the very rails that keep the train on the track.



* Group mores – “Customs, ways of thinking, behaving in a group.” – Webster’s New World

* Ethnic  – “Group of people having common customs, characteristics, language.” – Webster’s New World

* Datum –  “ Singular of data” –  Webster’s New World

* Stable –  “ not likely to change, lasting.” – Webster’s New World