No More Stinkin' Policies

As part of a quickly growing church, it seems like we encounter new challenges every single day.  From human resources to safety issues to legal questions to staff communication process, etc.

And many times the gut reaction is to create a new policy to create rules and guidelines for handing whatever new challenge has come our way.

I think this season of any organization is a really critical one.  The temptation is to control the chaos with as much structure as you can create, but most of the time this is where we see young, thriving, dynamic organizations suddenly become rigid, stiff and “corporate” feeling.  You don’t realize that is where you are headed at the time.  It’s only in looking back after you find yourself stuck in the muckety-muck of corporate bologna that you wish you hadn’t policy’d the life right out of your team.

This is probably one of the most difficult “grey” leadership issues to navigate.

How do you wisely and safely create the systems, procedures and policies that are necessary for your organization without sucking the life right out of the place?

Policies to me are a last resort.  I will only implement a policy if I’ve exhausted every other leadership solution.  Here’s why:

1) Oftentimes we create policies out of fear.  You or someone on your team made a poor choice or judgment call and because of the fear it stirred up, you swing to the extreme of writing a policy that ensures it never happens again.  It might never happen again, but neither will a lot of other great ideas.  Make sure it’s not just a good conversation you need rather than a full-blown policy.

2) They hinder actual leadership. Policies are a scapegoat for having difficult and honest conversations.  Our human nature wants to create a policy to put the blame on rather than take ownership for coaching our team.  It’s much easier to say “our policy states…”  rather than “this was a poor decision because…”.

Managers make policies.  Leaders set precedent but leave room for the uniqueness of the situation.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are some good and necessary, in fact legally necessary, policies for you to have in place.  But I don’t believe you need a policy for every action of your team.  Instead, you just need good discerning leaders!

Have you seen policies used to an extreme?  How do you strike the balance?

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  • Paul Clifford June 15, 2011  

    Agreed. Policies also stifle creativity when it comes to the arts. “We don’t take shots of the keyboards,” means the director gives up on making the shot interesting.  “We don’t use sculpture,” takes that medium off the plate always.  “We don’t dance,” limits movement.  

    The grey is where the art is born.  

    • Anonymous June 16, 2011  

      I totally agree Paul!

  • Suebee June 15, 2011  

    Hey Jenni! Loved this post….In my former life, I had the great responsibility of writing medication use policies for a hospital. My perspective on policies is that they are guide–yes, some are black and white and must be followed to a “t” but most are grey. There is no way to cover every situation in a policy. So at some point in time, you have to use “common sense”.

    Also, I will say if the organization doesn’t communicate properly that there are policies and where to find them–then they do no good. Also, if they are hard to interpret or lead you from one policy to another then they become ineffective.  Ideally,  policies should be simple, to the point and with an understanding that it is a guide.

    Just my thoughts….
    Hope you are doing well…

    Susie A.

    • Anonymous June 16, 2011  

      Great additional thoughts Susie! Thanks for chiming in!

  • Felicity White June 15, 2011  

    “Policies are a scapegoat for having difficult and honest conversations.”

    Wow. Yes.