I’ve seemingly been knee deep in policies lately, so I wanted to provide a little insight into my own thinking on what their actual purpose is as opposed to what other people may think they are for. First, let’s look at the definition:
[pol-uh-see] noun, plural pol·i·cies.
1. a definite course of action adopted for the sake of expediency, facility, etc.: We have a new company policy.
2. a course of action adopted and pursued by a government, ruler, political party, etc.: our nation’s foreign policy.
3. action or procedure conforming to or considered with reference to prudence or expediency: It was good policy to consent.
4. sagacity; shrewdness: Showing great policy, he pitted his enemies against one another.
Policies by definition should promote expediency, prudence, and efficiency. They themselves should be clearly defined for those expected to comply with them to understand both the actual policy, the reason for the policy, and the procedure expected to be adhered to.
Often times when someone makes a poor decision (or worse, makes no decision) the knee jerk reaction is to create a policy around this error in judgement. Enough knee jerks creates a “Policy Manual” that becomes both cumbersome and inefficient. This nullifies the actual purpose of having the policy in the first place, and puts an undue burden on those expected to comply with it.
Injustice often occurs when someone fails to comply with a policy because there is expected to be repercussions, usually in the form of a “Disciplinary Action“. More often than not the discipline itself is NOT a policy, and the handing out of the discipline is done in an arbitrary and capricious manner depending on who is responsible for administering the discipline. This is why there should be a Policy of Discipline that clearly lays out what will happen when a policy is not adhered to. See how quickly we can find reasons to create policies?
The one who adapts his policy to the times prospers, and likewise that the one whose policy clashes with the demands of the times does not.
Even for those organizations that are progressive enough to have laid out a Policy of Discipline, one of the most overlooked aspects of polcy violations is whether or not a policy is correct. We make the assumption that because a policy was violated the person doing so is automatically in the wrong, but do we question the validity of the policy in the face of changing times? Does the policy still promote efficiency and expediency or has it become something that makes the task to be performed harder to do so.
Where I Stand
I feel policies need to have a level of fluidity, especially in volunteer organizations. While some may revolve around the necessity of compliance with laws and statutes, there are many others that don’t. Those often create more complications for members expected to adhere to them by setting an expectation but failing to provide a solution. I think every policy should provide a procedure as a guide and a tool for efficient resolution, not necessarily as a mandate.
I also feel that the Charter or Bylaws of a volunteer organization should be where the process of discipline is outlined. Because Charters and Bylaws by their nature are supposed to set the mission and tone of an organization, it should also set the expectations in regards to policies and fully explain the repercussions from failing to adhere to them. Most career organizations use their Human Resource department to provide these types of guidelines, but often volunteer organizations don’t have this benefit. As a practitioner of “step discipline”, I find it unfair to the members when there is not a discipline process foundation set forth. The lack of this foundation is why accusations and perceptions of favoritism exist in any organization.
I’m a believer that if the expectations are clearly defined, people will do their best to live up to them. If the repercussions are clearly defined, and not left up to “interpretation”, then when that discipline is administered it will be accepted and hopefully serve as a reminder of the expectations already established.
In conclusion and summation I can offer that I am in favor of expectations and discipline being clearly defined and universally adhered to, with policies providing guidance and potential solutions or “best practices” to the presented issue.
Where Do You Stand?
So where do you stand when it comes to policies? Should they be treated as a sacred text or should they be amiable to the needs of the organization’s members? What about organizational charters and bylaws? They are different than policies, so how do you view them when used in conjunction?