Taking the 'Police' Out of Written Policy

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Have you developed your social networking policy yet? I've seen more than one article on this. Unfortunately the articles posing that question take leaders and managers in the wrong direction.

I am reminded of a comic strip, "Beetle Bailey." Private Bailey has his hands full. A mop in one hand and a sandwich is in the other. Sarge, looking like a bulldog, comes in and hollers at Private Bailey. Sarge complains that the private should not eat while mopping his floor. Bailey says, "Oh, you've got a rule for everything."

The Sarge has a smug look on his face as he slides a three -inch loose-leaf binder off a shelf holding dozens more just like it. With authority he reads, "Privates named Bailey shall not eat hamburgers while mopping their sergeant's floors." Unimpressed, Bailey replies, "It's a cheeseburger."

'What About Other Floors?'

Today, Sarge would have to expand his policies to include double cheeseburgers, jalapers in the wrong direction.

Several years ago, did you write policies telling employees how you want them to think of, use or not use credit union-supplied personal computers? The Internet? And now it's social networking. What comes next?

The right direction in policies is a level of generalization that applies to the things you care about as end results, not specific conditions that prevent those results. Write policies that provide a foundation for discussion on the real issues, not the details of activities that get your goat.

Being specific may seem like you're paying attention and you're hip to the newest craze, but that sets you up to fail. Your employees have a need to express their creativity. What better way to feel good while working in what they may perceive as unpopular, distasteful and dead-end jobs than to find ways to be in compliance with all your "*%&#$ rules" and still do what they want to do? I am deliberately being extreme here. Most employees are not like that. Good leaders avoid creating a culture that leads good employees in the wrong direction.

In a more generalized body of policies, you should include a section about the things you want employees to do, and a list of the things you do not want them to do, stated broadly and covering all employees. For example: Employees are expected to try new things to make tasks more efficient; to be creative in solving issues for members, coworkers, and management, and behave according to established core values. The list of "don'ts" may include engaging in any activity that reduces effectiveness.

There's more to say on both sides but those are related to Sarge's issue. Supervisors are employees in this context; there may be additional guidelines for leaders. Sarge would have been better off to remind Bailey of the few standards related to his conduct, and show how his behaviors deviated.

To some supervisors and managers, being able to point to a specific violation may seem easier to do; it's like an auto-focus camera, "point and shoot." However, as demonstrated, it is too difficult to keep specific rules in tune with changing conditions. Using policies as I described here means that supervisors and managers will have to do more: clarify the focus, set the aperture and shutter speeds-do more to customize the interaction, the teachable moment.

As a preemptive measure, leadership periodically explains preferred and undesirable behaviors and gives examples. Recurring reviews provide opportunities for employees to explain what they understand and to use new, appropriate examples. For my money, that's better use of employees' talents.

If your operational, personnel or HRpolicies are too specific now, use those specifics to begin making improvements. For example, look at what you say about PC usage, blogging and other Internet related activities; ask yourself what you were after when you wrote those. I believe the main motivation is efficiency. (There are security concerns, too; make that an additional exercise.) See also what applies already from the code of ethics, which could include, "Doing one's tasks to the best one's ability, efficiently and effectively, such that one contributes to the moral and financial success of this credit union." And, "To promote and protect the best interests and reputations of this credit union and the credit union movement..."

If those two statements in the code of ethics are not enough, you could include a statement in personnel policies under undesirable behaviors that include, "Examples of activities that prevent doing one's best for the company includes: making personal phone calls, blogging, and social networking on company time." It is much better to update examples than to write whole new policies. In addition, employees know, because you remind them, that examples are not exhaustive lists and are only used to help ensure clarity and compliance; maybe the reminder is on the annual signed statement that they have read and understand the personnel policies, and will comply, etc.

For boards that have appropriately delegated personnel or HR policies to management, it can request from time to time information related to productivity: for example, members-per-employee and assets-per-employee, employee compensation costs to total expenses, etc. It should not be necessary to monitor those as regularly as essential ratios; how about annually with the budget?

Just Ask Management

As a director, any time one of these employment and productivity issues come up at a conference or in an article and you wonder about it, ask management during a discussion period to briefly explain how, in the advent of social networking, she has prevented liability and loss of productivity.

When a manager feels an employee is in "violation" of something, she will talk to the offender and make the connection between their behavior and the intention. Such a conversation, warning or reprimand will require communication skills the leader has developed: coaching, persuasion, and clarity of purpose. As opposed to Sarge's approach, a collaborative interaction between leader and employee is an opportunity to create real relationships that will foster more compliance with ideals and intentions.

Dan Clark is a Governance and Planning Consultant. Formerly the CU Administrator for the state, he is based in Tallahassee, Fla. For info: 850-559-7094.

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