When it IS and ISN’T the Right Time to Create a New Policy

First, let’s address when it’s NOT a good idea to create a new policy. When a manager or supervisor thinks it’s easier to make a policy than deal with a performance issue with one or a few people, they are going to find themselves in a heck of a mess.  It’s not a good idea to subject everyone to a policy that is generated by the misdeeds or misunderstandings of a few. That’s the job of the manager, and that’s performance management.

Here's a true story that demonstrates this concept. A union supervisor came to me to request a change in policy. He wanted to prevent his employees from cashing their paychecks on their lunch break. When I asked him why his answer went like this: “Some of my employees are routinely late coming back to work from lunch on payday and it throws off our scheduling and isn’t fair to others who are back on time.” My response to this was, “Have you talked to the specific employees who are behaving this way?” His answer was, “They should know better – they know they are late!”

We didn’t change anything that would infringe on employees’ rights to spend their lunchtime any way they chose. Instead, I reminded the supervisor that it was his job to speak directly to specific employees about his concerns, clarify his expectations, and be clear about the consequences of repeated tardiness on paydays. End of discussion and, by the way, end of problem.

Now that we’ve dispensed with that, here are 4 key things to consider in determining whether you need a new policy or not:         

1. When safety is a real concern, a huge issue as we navigate COVID-19. 

2. When structure is needed for a chaotic situation – for example: when there is no dress code and the people who meet with customers/public, dress in a wide array of outfits that sometimes do and do not reflect the company’s values or desired image.

3. When consistency is crucial to business strategy, bottom-line, and/or fairness such as internal ethics, attendance, PTO, benefits, parking, travel expense policy, etc.

4. When laws and/or regulations external to the organization are driving the rules of behavior or operation.      

People often confuse process with policy. They are not the same. Process is “how” something gets done; policy is “what” will or must be done.  For example, you may have a hiring process with a number of steps that you mostly adhere to, yet you may choose to flex and change when specific circumstances require it. However, you will likely have a hard and fast policy that says you will not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age, ethnicity…etc. and that policy does not flex, ever.

Rule of thumbless is more when it comes to policies. You need enough to create appropriate structure and consistency, help all your people understand the “rules of the game,” and no more. Focus your efforts on having good processes and good leaders conducting good performance management, day-to-day, and you won’t need a lot of policies.


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