Careful planning will make company policies stick

Have you ever had this experience? You recognize a problem in your business and formulate a policy or procedure to govern how it should be handled in the future. You put the policy in a memo to your employees and send it out by email, discuss it at a staff meeting, and maybe even post it on a bulletin board.

People comply initially, but a month or so later you suddenly realize the policy isn’t being followed anymore. You’re now highly annoyed and frustrated because your directive has been ignored. Worse yet, there may have been repercussions because the problem recurred and wasn’t handled correctly.

Company policies are designed to make things better, help protect people’s jobs and personal safety, and protect the company from costly mistakes, poor workmanship, and potential lawsuits. Yet we frequently hear business owners complain that employees don’t follow the rules.

The business owners created policies, thinking they would solve issues, only to be blind-sided when the same issues popped up again. In many cases, they incurred significant costs the next time around. They may have lost an important customer or had to write a big check to fix the problem.

So how do you make your policies stick? We believe there are three pieces to the puzzle.

Policies should be clearly communicated. When policies and procedures aren’t understood, people may believe they’re doing the right thing but the outcome may not be what you intended. Whether you provide a formal company policy manual or give verbal instructions, policies must be communicated clearly or people won’t follow them correctly.

Keep in mind that simply providing written policies won’t guarantee they’re understood. You may think you’ve written something that’s crystal clear but it may still be completely misunderstood. The best way to ensure that your employees understand a policy is to have them tell you what they think it means.

Policies should be audited. Policies are unlikely to be followed unless they’re periodically audited. And without a system in place to monitor compliance, you have no way of knowing whether your employees are following the rules.

In our experience, the following scenario commonly occurs when a policy is created but not monitored. Employees may initially follow it, but if they skip it and no one notices, they just continue ignoring it because they figure it’s obviously not important. Worse yet, they may start questioning all of the company policies. After all, they can’t be all that important if no one seems to care if they’re followed. If that attitude becomes part of your company’s culture, you’ll have problems.

There should be consequences for failing to follow policies. Employees need to know that their failure to follow company policies will have repercussions, whether it’s being called on the carpet, having a negative memo placed in their personnel file, having their pay docked, or losing their job. Obviously, the severity of the consequence will depend on the level of infraction.

In some cases, other people’s lives may depend on your company policies being followed correctly, as in the case of health and safety issues. In these cases, the non-complying employee needs to have severe repercussions. In less dangerous areas, the consequences can be less harsh but the issue still needs to be addressed.

As a side note, make sure your company’s policies are legal and reflect current laws. Judy attended an event where an attorney spoke about Colorado legislation concerning transgender employees. He explained that employees must be permitted to dress as the gender of their choice, as long they conform to company dress codes, and must be allowed to use restrooms according to their “gender identities” without being questioned or harassed. Virtually everyone at Judy’s table stated that they were unaware this law existed (Learn more at (http://www.dora.state.co.us/civil-rights/sexual_orientation/2010brochure.pdf). This is just an example of how not knowing about legislation and implementing it as company policy could have legal ramifications for your company.

Policies serve an important purpose in any company and shouldn’t be taken lightly. A machinery operator who doesn’t follow correct procedures can injure someone. If procedures for expense reimbursement or returned merchandise aren’t followed correctly, the company can lose money. When customers aren’t handled according to company policy, you can lose customers. And instances of sexual harassment or discrimination can result in lawsuits and fines.

As the business owner, you’re the ultimate gatekeeper when it comes to policies so make sure yours stick!

Laddie and Judy Blaskowski are partners in several businesses, including BusinessTruths Consulting. They are authors of The Step Dynamic: A Powerful Strategy for Successfully Growing Your Business. Judy@BusinessTruths.com. Connect with them on LinkedIn.