Philosophy, Policy And Procedure

Written by Joe Driscoll

November 21, 2009

Everyone in the office always arrived well before starting time and remained until all the days work was done, even if that required some extra time. There never had been a need for a time clock or a sign-in sheet. The business was regulated by what needed to be done, there was a strong sense of commitment.

As the business grew, however, things began to change. Some of the newer employees arrived just at the time they were to begin and weren’t productive for another fifteen minutes or so. The office manager responded by calling an all employee meeting and instituted an official starting time.

It wasn’t long before some of the employees were abusing the new rule. Soon, the older employees began to resent the changes and what they perceived to be inequities. A second employee meeting resulted in the creation of a sign-in sheet to maintain a record of arrival times.

Over time it became generally known that certain employees were fudging the sign in times to make it look as though they had arrived earlier than they actually had. The five or ten minutes weren’t so bad, the issue of principle was. The older employees were offended by the concept of the sign-in sheet, a form of questioning their integrity.

The manager contemplated her next move. A time clock perhaps? What had happened to that nice cozy little office?

Every growing business develops a need for rules and regulations. It might begin with customer problems, employees or suppliers, but before too long there will be a need in all of these areas for formal administrative procedures. I can’t say for sure where the threshold is, it may be when you have two employees or perhaps at 20, but as your business grows, so do the rules, regulations and restrictions.

This is a crucial transition period for any organization. Items such as normal working hours, vacation schedules, customer relations, purchasing procedures, and salaries, all of which originally took care of themselves, now require some formality.

The new restrictions generally prove to be inadequate. The transition rarely goes smoothly as the first “rules” don’t make anybody happy. Exceptions will be made, more rules, more problems and more frustration will follow. It is at this time that founders and managers often become frustrated while others become confused.

Responding to problems with rules, regulations and restrictions, is a common trap for a growing business, a trap which many well established companies never escape. It doesn’t need to be that way. If a business takes the time to articulate its philosophy on the major issues that it will face, the problems can be resolved in an orderly and consistent manner.

Philosophy, policy and procedure hold the solution to this transition. Start with the articulation of your company’s philosophy, establish policies that embody those philosophies and implement procedures that will insure that your business operates consistent with your established policy.

It’s not uncommon for a company to make well intended statements about its philosophy. Unless these statements are well thought out, formalized and supported with consistent policies and procedures to insure their implementation however, they will cause more problems than they will solve.

Let’s take another look at that office that’s quickly progressed from formalizing a starting time to a sign-in sheet and is about to bring out the big guns with the installation of a time clock. While it sometimes may seem obvious, stating the company’s philosophy on issues such as integrity and employee responsibility will contribute to an environment in which even the smallest indiscretions will be understood to be unacceptable.

A company that articulates a philosophy that puts responsibility on individuals has a responsibility to inform its employees of its policies concerning all issues, even little ones like what it means to be on time for work, for which they will be responsible.

A policy needs a procedure to insure its effective implementation. A procedure that effects control on an exception basis is compatible with a philosophy of individual responsibility. If an employee is going to be late they should notify their manager.

When the problems occur, as they surely will, take the time to think them through. Communicate early, openly, and often. And use philosophy, policy and procedures in place of rules, regulations and restrictions. Its better than buying another time clock.

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