How to Develop a Policy

Determine Whether You Need a Policy

Ask whether you need a policy and then get input from your colleagues.
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Identify the Need for a Policy

You want to have the necessary policies and procedures to ensure a safe, organized, convivial, empowering, nondiscriminatory workplace. Yet, you do not want to write a policy for every exception to accepted and expected behavior. Policy development is for the many employees not for the few exceptions.

Consequently, you do not want to create policies for every contingency, thus allowing very little management latitude in addressing individual employee needs.

Conversely, you want to have needed policies, so that employees never feel as if they reside in a free-for-all environment of favoritism and unfair treatment.

These ten steps will take you from determining the need for a policy through distributing and integrating a policy.

Check Out These Guidelines to See if a Policy Is Needed

For each of the reasons provided about why a policy might be necessary, I have provided examples of the policies that might fall into that category of need for a policy. A policy is necessary:

  • if the actions of employees indicate confusion about the most appropriate way to behave (dress codes, email, and Internet policies, cell phone use),
  • if guidance is needed about the most suitable way to handle various situations (standards of conduct, travel expenditures, purchase of company merchandise),
  • when needed to protect the company legally (consistent investigation of charges of harassment, non-discriminatory hiring and promotion),

    There may be other reasons, additionally, for why you may want to develop a policy. Remember, though, that one employee's poor behavior should not require a policy that will affect all other employees.

    Articulate the Goal of the Policy

    Once you've determined that a policy is necessary, determine the goal you want to accomplish in writing the particular policy. When possible, you will want to tell employees why the policy is being implemented.

    You need enough details in the policy to make the company's position clear, yet you can never hope to cover every potential situation addressed by the policy.

    Consequently, my goal with a policy is short and simple. I recognize this may not be possible with policies about areas such as the company's approach to the Family Medical and Leave Act, discrimination or complaint investigation, or the progressive discipline system.

    But, how much can you really say about driving while talking on a cell phone? So, use common sense as you determine the outcome you want from your policy.

    Continue on to: Write and Implement Your Policy.

    The first part of this article asked: Do You Need a Policy? If So, What's the Goal of the Policy?

    Gather Information

    This Human Resources website provides sample policies as do many other websites, albeit other companies frequently charge for their policies. Even websites that charge, provide free samples so you can test their policies.

    In my experience, I never find a sample policy that is exactly right for my company circumstances.

    But, research online and find sample policies to provide a base for revising rather than writing your policy from scratch.

    You can also subscribe to a service that provides samples such as Personnel Policy Manual Service, a service used by a client company. External policy sources are also provided in my policy samples directory. Finally, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) provides policy samples for members.

    In some cases, you may even want to talk with your employment law attorney. Law firms write generic policies for their clients that can also be customized. Especially when a new law passes or the Department of Labor issues new rules, your attorney is likely to develop an accompanying policy.

    Develop and Write the Policy

    With goals and samples in hand, write the policy using simple words and concepts. Speak directly to the people who will be reading, enforcing, and living by the policy.

    After each paragraph, ask yourself "what if" questions to make certain the policy is covering the basics and the normal exceptions and questions. Do not obsess over this, however; as stated, no policy ever covers every possible contingency.

    Review the Policy

    Select several employees, or even a small pilot group, to read the policy and ask any questions they might have about the policy.

    This review provides feedback that employees will be able to understand and follow the policy. Rewrite the policy based on the feedback.

    Obtain Management Support for the Policy

    Review the policy with the managers who will have to lead and put into effect the policy. You will want to have their support and ownership of the policy. You will have started this process much earlier, even as early as when you identified the need for the policy, but management support as you implement the policy is crucial.

    Obtain Legal Review of the Policy

    If the policy has legal implications, is litigious by its nature, has personal implications for employees (such as security procedures), you will want to have your attorney review the policy before you distribute the policy further.

    Make sure you communicate to your attorney that you do not want the policy rewritten in legalese. You want the policy reviewed for legal implications and appropriate wording.

    Implement the Policy

    In small groups, individually, or in a company meeting, depending generally on the controversial nature of the policy and the ease with which it will be understood, distribute and review the new policy.

    Give employees a chance to ask questions.

    The policy should always consist of the policy on a piece of paper with the employee sign off on a second sheet. Employees can sign off that they have received and understand the policy, yet retain a copy for their own files.

    This is a sample signoff statement to use:

    I acknowledge receipt of and understanding of the (Your Company) Policy. The policy is effective (Date) until further notice.

    _______________________________________________________

    Employee Signature

    _______________________________________________________

    Employee Name (Please Print)

    ________________________________

    Date

    Decide How You Will Communicate the Policy in the Future

    Include the policy in your employee handbook. You may also want the policy to become part of your New Employee Orientation.

    Some companies place policies in their Intranet or in a policy folder on the computer network's common drive. Determine whether you will want to distribute the policy by additional methods.

    You will also want to archive and date former policies that this policy replaces. You may need them for legal or another reference in the future.

    Interpret and Integrate the Policy

    No matter what you write in the policy, your later policy application and work practices will determine the real meaning of the policy. Think consistent and fair as you interpret the policy over time.

    When you find your practices differing from the written policy, it is time to review and rewrite the policy and the cycle starts again.

    Start by asking: Do You Need a Policy?

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