In the constantly changing compliance environment it is important, even in established, sophisticated businesses, to take some time out occasionally to review the business systems and approaches to ensure that they reflect best practice and are appropriate for the business size, style and operation. It is staggering how quickly a business can outgrow a process that used to work for them, or how quickly a small change that is missed can lead to large issues later on. This Employment 101 Series is all about going Back to Basics – ensuring that the simple systems and requirements are understood and operational, so that we can build on them and focus on the growth of the business.
Getting the basics right is important, especially when it comes to ensuring that all parties are on the same page. This instalment will explore the important area of ensuring that all management and staff know what is expected, and what will happen if those expectations are not met – the critical Business Policies and Codes of Conduct. Good policies and codes can empower new staff to becomes stars in the business, and provide clear pathways for management to address poor performance…but bad policies can become a risk to the business, so it is worth getting them right.
Whether it is introducing new staff to ‘the way we do things around here’ or providing the framework for performance management, policies have an important role and function in every business. Well they do when they are done right! Like all documents the value is not in the generation of the policies, the value is in the implementation of them.
Some policies are required for regulatory compliance and for many contract and tender processes, so there is sometimes a temptation to write them and forget them, but they can be valuable tools within the business for driving culture and facilitating good people management. So how do you make your policies more than words?
Some business policies are bad. Bad in the sense that they: do not reflect the practices of the business; contain idealistic goals and/or motherhood statements; contain convoluted or unreasonable timelines and/or details and do not communicate expectations. These policies tend to sit on a shelf and collect dust. Which is a wasted opportunity, but on it’s own does not cause a problem until there is a problem.
When an incident occurs in the business, or the business would like to performance manage a worker, bad policies can cause problems, big problems.
Policies that contain goals and idealised statements such as ‘zero tolerance’ or call for specific people within the business to respond within specific timeframes can create a situation where the business, responding to an incident in good faith, can actually breach its employment obligations. For example, in a business with ‘bad’ policies, when a bullying incident occurs if there is a policy on the treatment of bullying that calls for ‘zero tolerance’ or for the ‘General Manager’ to deal with the situation if that policy is not followed to the letter, because it is a spurious claim, or the General Manager is on leave, then the business has breached its implied contract with the workers, as the business policies form part of any employment relationship.
A good business policy, on the other hand, can be a tool for management and a clear part of the ongoing dialogue with workers. Good policies make it clear to all what the business expects and what will happen when the policy is activated or breached.
Good policies outline:
- The importance of the policy area to the business
- The expectations of the business in terms of behaviour (prohibited or encouraged as appropriate to the policy)
- The responses of the business to any breach or activation of the policy
Good policies keep the details simple and honestly reflect the realities and practicalities of the business. If the business is one, like many in our industry, that is categorised as a ‘robust environment’ policies that express a ‘zero tolerance’ for swearing are not only inappropriate but, in the hands of a disgruntled worker, can be a noose around the businesses proverbial neck. Policies that reflect the reality of the business allow all parties to understand them, live up to them and count on them.
Tell it like it is
It is important that policies within the business are not confused with aspirational goals or vision/mission statements. A Policy is not something the business is aiming for, it is a clear articulation of what the business expects in a certain area, and what WILL ALWAYS happen if those expectations are not met, and what MAY happen if those expectations are not met.
Make it personal
This changes in each business, what is considered appropriate in one business may be inappropriate in another, even when the work tasks or environments are similar. Business culture, demographics, location and a raft of factors will influence this. What management needs to consider is in the area of ‘X’ what do we expect of our workers? And if we don’t get it what will we ALWAYS do, and what it is POSSIBLE that we would do depending on the circumstances of each case?
“Some of the best policies I have seen include all of the required elements in the detail, but go out of their way to give cultural context and summary, such as the famous Google ‘don’t be evil’ or the more common ‘don’t be a jerk’, which are great catchphrases for deeper policies around delivering outcomes in ethical and team based ways” explained ACAPMAs Elisha Radwanowski.
Expectations and Outcomes
Any policy should clearly outline to the workers what the expectations are and if possible the rationale for these expectations. A classic example is mobile phone use. Some businesses allow mobile phone use within work environments. Others have a zero tolerance approach. If the expectation is that mobile phone will not be used during work hours due to customer service standards or safety that should be expressed.
The benefits of good policies, including cohesive culture, predictable behaviours and outcomes, consistent performance management, quality process control and even competitive advantage, can not be realised unless the policies are alive.
The existence of the policy initially tells workers, customers and regulators that the expectations the policy applies to, are important to the business. It is imperative that the actions of the business confirm this initial communication. If the actions of the business do not match the promise of the policy, then the benefits are immediately eroded.
K.I.S.S it and Back it up
Good policies are valuable. Good policies reflect the reality of the business. Good policies outline what the expectation is, and what will always happen and what may happen in the event of a breach. Good policies are simple. There is no need for complicated language, nor is there a need to have a policy for every element of work tasks or interaction.
A simple policy, such as: “It is the expectation of the business that workers will always follow the standard operating procedures. Any departure from the standard operating procedures will always be treated seriously and investigated, and may result in retraining, performance management or termination, depending on the circumstances of the breach”
that is backed up by task and process lists and or training allows the business the flexibility to change work task methods without changing the policy.
This captures all of the tasks, and allows for variation. If there was an emergency that required the employee to depart from the standard instruction it would be investigated, this allows for the business to adopt new instructions for emergencies if required.
Code of Conduct
With good policies in place a Code of Conduct can provide an additional layer and opportunity to communicate expectations to staff and what will occur if they breach those expectations.
A Code of Conduct is specifically pitched at staff dos and don’ts, and can bring the policies to life. For example if the policy is that bullying and harassment will constitute misconduct and breaches will be treated seriously and may result in performance management and/or termination, then the Code of Conduct is an opportunity to dive into detail of what is an isn’t acceptable. A Code of Conduct can use examples, role play, case studies and simple do and don’t lists to explain to staff how to avoid breaching the business policies and perform to the expectations.
More From This Series
Employment Compliance 101:
Here to Help
ACAPMA members are reminded that ACAPMA has a series of resources from Quick Reference Guides to template letters and investigation and reporting checklists that can assist with ensuring compliant and consistent responses in this area, and can call on the advice and support of the ACAPMA Employment Professionals via firstname.lastname@example.org .
HR Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business.
They are provided as general advice and you should seek further advice on your situation by emailing email@example.com it’s free for members.
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Elisha Radwanowski BCom(HRM &IR)
Executive Manager Employment and Training