You know the saying, “Out with the old, in with the new.” When a new year begins, many people take the time to assess their life and create goals or intentions for having a successful year. Perhaps they attempt to purge old habits that don’t serve them and adopt better habits that will help them reach their goals. They declutter their home, their office and their closets to make room for the new.
Organizations can benefit from this practice as well. There is a specific area in organizations where purging and updating is typically long overdue: Old-school policies and practices.
There is one phrase used in countless organizations that is so outdated that it should be deleted from every one of your organizational policies immediately… "disciplinary action.”
Why do I detest this phrase so much?
- Because it conjures up images of traditional, old-school, ineffective managers who do a lot of directing and telling, and not a lot of inspiring and coaching.
- Because it sounds like a phrase that would be invoked in third grade if you talked back to the teacher or pulled down your pants in front of the class (as one of my childhood friends did in the third grade).
- Because it is condescending and demeaning.
If we want to create engaging, productive cultures where people enjoy working, we need to have policies and practices that support a more modern workplace. Alternative phrases might be “coaching” or “counseling”.
I remember the first time I became a manager in a credit union, and I was handed a huge policy manual to review. As I flipped through the book, I came upon the travel policy. This is the policy that told you how much you could spend on meals, lodging, flights, and anything else travel related to business travel. And it was 40 pages! Yes, 40 pages of great bedtime reading that made no one want to travel for work…EVER.
What kind of impression do you feel that policy left on employees of the organization? I can tell you how I felt—micromanaged and distrusted. It certainly didn’t instill a sense of ownership and empowerment. I suspect that one time, maybe ten years before, one person didn’t follow common sense and spent too much on dinner, so the leadership team called a three-hour meeting to enact a policy to ensure that never happened again, instead of addressing the issue directly with that employee.
How many times have you received an email that was sent to “All Staff” because one person broke a policy or rule? I remember receiving emails with an “updated” policy and a stern warning to all staff that included how long a skirt needed to be, what shoes were appropriate at work, and that visible tattoos were not allowed.
I am not suggesting we throw away guidelines and policies. They can be helpful and necessary. What I am suggesting is that we don’t insult the very people we are trying to engage. Instead of including every situation under the sun, or detailed minutiae of what will happen if someone breaks a policy, let’s start having conversations. If you notice a pattern of lateness, or declining performance, sit down and have an adult conversation with your employee. Don’t send an email to your whole team “reminding” them of the attendance policy.
There are things that are never out of date:
- Hand-written cards
- Holding the door for someone behind you
- 80s music
- Reading physical books
- Saying “thank you”
- Roller skates
- Treating people as human beings with needs, goals, and emotions
And things that are very outdated:
- Aqua Net
- “Disciplinary action”
- Believing a paycheck is enough to motivate your staff
- Thinking Millennials are the problem
- 80s hair
- Old-school policies with robotic rhetoric
- Knowing all the answers
As leaders, if we want to create cultures of ownership, accountability, and empowerment, we need to make sure our policies align with our desired goal.
The organization I worked for actually had a very good culture, but outdated policies and practices were undermining the great culture the leadership team was working to create.
Here are some things to consider when assessing your policies and practices:
- Is there any outdated language that needs to be updated? (examples: disciplinary action, personnel)
- Is your language inclusive to all individuals?
- Are any of our policies exhaustive and too detailed, sending the message we don’t trust our employee’s judgment?
- What kind of tone do our policies suggest—an employee-centric tone of a great place to work, or an employer-centric tone about rules and regulations?
Perhaps asking different segments of your employee population to review the policies and give their impressions can be helpful to ensure you are striking the tone you intend when updating policies, procedures, and employee handbooks.
While legal language is often necessary in some policies, you still have the opportunity to portray a welcoming and approachable tone in all of your organizational communications. The small things matter. You can have a great culture and have great employees, but if all your practices don’t align with the culture you aspire to create each day, it will leave your employees feeling unsupported and disengaged.