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Cover Story: On the other hand…policies at work
By Sid Scott, Scott Consultants

A very popular and Tony award-winning Broadway musical of the 1960s, Fiddler on the Roof, featured a memorable character named Tevye. As a Jewish patriarch in pre-communist, Tsarist Russia and father to five daughters, he struggles with keeping the tried and true traditions arising from his religious beliefs during difficult times of change. Like many parents, he looks at competing views and tries his best to do what is right for his family while not sacrificing his values.

Tevye goes through this ongoing balancing act as he tries to decide if one of his daughter’s suitors is the right man for her to commit to in marriage. Here’s the way Tevye expresses both sides of issues:

“He's beginning to talk like a man.
But what kind of match would that be, with a poor tailor?
On the other hand, he's an honest, hard worker.
On the other hand, he has absolutely nothing. On the other hand,
Things could never get worse for him, they could only get better.
They gave each other a pledge-unheard of, absurd.
They gave each other a pledge-unthinkable.
But look at my daughter's face-she loves him,
She wants him; and look at my daughters eyes, so hopeful.”

For me this process of looking at both sides of situations parallels what employers and managers need to do with the policies which help us manage our daily workplaces. Since there are pluses and minuses with every decision or interpretation of a policy – in other words, no easy answers and thus room for discussion – policies allow for a range of possibilities to be considered. With a range of options, the best one can be found that meets the needs and wants of all parties.

Rules are different; so are procedures

We have found it helps to agree on the definition of terms that apply to workplace situations. In our company it has been useful to define three terms – rules, procedures and policies. Let’s first look at rules and procedures to help us better define and understand policies and their implied range of possibilities.

A rule, as we define it, is a stated standard that must be followed as written – no exceptions. Examples of rules are governmental laws, regulations or legal requirements, or our own rules/procedures based on these laws, regulations or legal requirements. The exactness and success of our rule compliance as we see it is vital to the success of the company and preservation of the culture.

Another way to look at rules is they are requirements for certain actions or non-actions as clarified by procedures.  Rules in our company have definite "procedures" that must be followed to ensure compliance.  Neither rules nor the procedures for complying with those rules allow any discretion on the part of the person following them. Therefore, any deviation is automatically an error.

An example of a rule based on a regulation is our rule regarding OSHA and safety in the workplace:

Our Company will abide by the federal and state laws and regulations mandated by the Worker's Compensation Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Furthermore, we understand the need to provide a safe and healthy working environment, not only as a result of mandated legislation, but also as an ethical obligation to employees. 

The procedures to follow for safety adherence are very specific and must be followed so that full compliance with the rule is met. The risks to individuals and to the company by not following safety rules are often great – injury, death, legal actions, fines, etc. Policies are somewhat different, as explained below.

What are policies? Why do we need them?

Policies in our company are statements that tell supervisors and employees how to deal with a situation.  Our policies have been described as "consistent guides to follow whenever a request of this kind has been made."  Policies are not rules or procedures because they give some flexibility to the manager or supervisor to make decisions within a framework (parameters) that is consistent with the company’s overall philosophy, plans and goals. A policy also requires individuals to abide by the “spirit” of what is implied.

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