What Is a Policy Manual?

What is a policy manual?  Is it something that you or people within your organization have worked diligently on for many months only to roll it out in a grand fashion, pay to have it printed and bound only to have it put on the shelf of the various offices and collect dust?  Is it used to enable employees to be successful or is it only pulled out when someone has stopped playing by the rules?  Is it designed to empower people to do more or to castrate them in their efforts of success?  Was it written by an attorney or a risk manager with emphasis on protecting the company or written to be a primer of independence?  Is it not really filled with policy but more of a step by step micromanagement of what employees should do with an emphasis on what they can’t do?  I have found in my travels that the answers to these questions are usually the negative sides of each and every one of these questions.  They are generally policies and procedures that are reactionary to unfortunate circumstances.  I see some of the most ridiculous policies and when I question why they exist, I typically get a diatribe on what happened in an isolated circumstance in the past.  There is a reason why on the side of your McDonalds coffee cup it says “caution contents may be hot”.  We have reduced our world to play   to the lowest common denominator, rather than look to the larger issue of fixing the problems as they arise.   With the litigious society that we live in, we must not stoop to manage the insane and work diligently to surround ourselves with thinking people that are motivated and empowered to do the right things.

This is the reason that I have spent my entire professional life with learning how to surround myself with people that are filled with reason and then craft policies for them.  It reminds me of when I was a child and learning how to play sports, I did not need someone to micromanage my understanding of the game; I needed someone to tell me what those white lines that were on the ground meant.  I needed to know my boundaries and the broad rules then I found my way to success because I wanted to, not because I was manipulated to.  Good coaches and good leaders allow for the human spirit to thrive and avoid at all costs, squashing the natural instincts of their employees and partners.

If you have an organization that is filled with people that need to be regulated then you have an organization that can only find a finite amount of success.  Control does not equal power.  What you have to do is constantly ask yourself when you feel the urge to control or regulate is ask yourself one simple one word question; Why?  This little 3 letter word is so powerful.  Having a manual that is four inches thick does not provide quality or consistency.  What it does accomplish, is bureaucracy.   I have never seen an organization with heavy self-imposed regulation as a performing organization.   As a consultant and coach, what I do see are organizations that enlist my help that are failing because of their control issues.   I find that any success that they have found has been in spite of the regulations as opposed to because of it.

In the industry we are in, we find ourselves always looking at issues like a defense attorney would with a “let’s plan for the worst” scenario.  Great leaders do not lead with fear as a primary motivator.  In fact they lead with a sense of calm and steadfastness that prevents over reaction to situations.  By playing to the strengths of their associates they find tremendous productivity and loyalty.  People have a natural desire for compliance by playing on that desire we can get an outcome that is true to the mission and the vision of any organization.  By having policies that are empowering versus deflating we get people that want to do the right thing and we get less of the conversations about “them” or “they”.  These are words that fully illustrate the fundamental distance between the leaders of an organization and the front line employees that are engaged in execution of the mission.  Having the right policies moves the nomenclature of an organization from them versus us to “we”.  This is when a company’s culture starts to emerge and the personality of the company starts to find consistency.  I always find it amusing when companies that are over regulated have the least amount of consistency in the eyes of their customers.

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