Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rubber the Fabric of Poor Policy Design

Often during training a question is asked or a scenario is shared that has great value to share with others. During one of my public seminars, while discussing progressive discipline, an attendee asked, “How should I handle counseling an employee whom I don’t want to use formal discipline (for various reasons)? The question created a great discussion around standards.

The participant’s question came from a noble place but it screamed of potential problems within the organization. The flag appeared when he stated, “…I don’t want to…” I needed more information obviously and he shared that his employee was a good employee and hadn’t been late in the past (lateness was the performance problem). I asked him to tell me the policy at his company. He explained that lateness was not tolerated but the policy read that counseling lateness was “at the manager’s discretion”. There in lies the problem.

“At the Manager’s discretion” creates inconsistency throughout the organization. I suggested to him that another manager in the organization may interpret discretion to mean never, while you (the participant) are interpreting it within the context of extenuating circumstances. The answer to his question was that he should challenge the policies wording. Remove “at the manager’s discretion” and replace with steps that would be taken consistently despite the circumstances. The ambiguity of the policy minimizes its effectiveness. Additionally it invites the opportunity for potential litigation.

Learning Point: Policies should be consistent and clearly worded to avoid discretionary applications.

Leadership Behavior: Enforce standards consistently to clearly communicate the journey to success.

Leadership Principle: Success is achieved through the development and commitment to achieving standards.

Policy and precedent can create many challenges to management. Clarity and transparency seem to mostly rescue manager's from creating challenges and problems.

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