How to Make Your Policies Most Effective

Most Policies Become Wallpaper Because There Is No Follow-Up.

By Steve Schumacher

We have all experienced it at one time or another. The leaders of our organization come up with some new policies that they expect everyone to implement and adhere to. Those policies take a lot of different forms, everything from performance reviews, time off policies, company property, behavior on the job, safety, etc. 

There are email blasts, Zoom meetings, bulletin board postings and face-to-face meetings all designed to educate employees about the new policies. There is a lot of energy, time and money spent on kicking off the new policies and people are very clear on their new marching orders.

I have seen numerous leaders think that communication starts and ends with them. Not so. Communication happens with the receiver of what is being said, not the sender. No matter the clarity of the message, if the receiver did not understand it, there was no communication. The wise communicator understands that you must over-communicate what you are trying to get across. 

Here are a few thoughts about making your new policies understood and implemented in a timely manner.

Get employees involved early. The more involvement employees have in the formulation of new policies, the more ownership they will have for them when you roll them out. Select supporters, not naysayers, to help you put the policies together. Supporters will tend to find ways to make the process and the policy work well. Naysayers will tend to slow down the process and try to subvert the policy when it is completed. Position involvement in the policy-making process as a real blue ribbon for the employees you choose to participate.

HR must be a key player. The wise leader is one who gets HR involved in all policy formulation and implementation. It might make sense to involve an attorney also. The last thing you want, as you roll out the new policy, is to find out you run the risk of a lawsuit with the new policy. HR and law professionals can check and double check policy formulation along the way, rather than getting handed a legal mess when the policy goes live.

Use very simple words and images. Nowadays, people have very short attention spans and will not spend a lot of time to read long words and sentences. To get employees to pay attention to the policy, it must be compelling from the first word. Images help understanding also. People learn differently, but basically there are people that learn best by reading, seeing or doing. When introducing the policy, try to hit all three and that will help the majority of your employees understand.

Test, test, test. Prior to going live, do numerous dry runs of the policy rollout and potential land mines. Once you go live, the consequences that come from mistakes, or barriers, are much tougher to overcome. Get other eyes and ears to read and hear the details of the new policy and ask them to poke holes in it. Look for the worst case scenario and make a plan to deal with it. 

High level walk the talk. If you want the policy to have the most impact when introduced, have the top executive in your organization introduce it to the employees. Doing this sends a clear message that the highest level leaders are on board and are taking the policy seriously. Make sure the top executives are prepared to answer any and all questions that my come from employees. They, and the policy, will lose credibility if they are not up to speed. Put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions to give to all employees. Take it for granted that people will have a lot of questions but the odds are they will not ask them, they will just talk among themselves and guess the answers, good or bad. Given that likelihood, do your best to brainstorm every question that employees may think of.

Monitor and adjust. Even when you take all the proper steps to prepare new policies for a rollout, things may still go wrong from time to time. As part of the policy introduction, be open with everyone that 30-60-90 days into the policy implementation, you may realize you need to adjust it. Most people are reasonable and will understand that even the smartest people cannot foresee every situation in the future. If you do need to adjust the policy because of some unforeseen circumstance, do it as quickly as possible with completely transparent communication.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].