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Roll out your policy changes the right way

April 18, 2013

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

By Michael J. Burns

ASE has been writing and reviewing employee handbooks for many years now. Until recently, the policy environment was relatively stable and when policy changes became necessary they usually came at a reasonably manageable pace. Most changes were driven by new laws or new issues but typically came months or even years apart. The Family and Medical Leave Act, which came in the early ’90s, is an example of an important law that drove much policy change. But companies were able to develop and implement the policy changes driven by FMLA in a fairly planned, thoughtful way.  

Social Media is a more recent issue. But in that case, there has been a comparative rush of new policy issues driven by new regulations, changes in the law, proclamations by regulatory bodies (often the National Labor Relations Board), and court decisions that are forcing employers to implement policy changes with less time to think them through and/or time for them to evolve after their first iterations.

If your organization has experienced such a burst of employment policy change activity, you may want to consider some suggestions for making policy change happen more efficiently and effectively.

Catherine Dunn, writing for Corporate Counsel, provides five interesting tips for policy transition. The suggestions come from Shanti Atkins who is President and Chief Strategy Officer at NAVEX Global, a risk management firm that consults with employers on change. In their article entitled “5 Tips for Making Policy Change Work,” they suggest the following;

  1. Find out how the current policy really works before you change it.  Strangely enough, the current policy may be practiced differently than understood by Human Resources or management in general. It may be practiced differently between different areas of the company. Knowing if the current policy is being applied inconsistently allows for better policy change planning.
  2. Get sufficient input on how the new policy will work. Ms. Dunn and Ms. Atkins suggest that working through how the policy would work or be applied, with sample scenarios, will give policy developers a better understanding of how the policy will work.
  3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Telling employees why a policy is necessary, and why it must state what employees cannot do or what they must do, goes a long way toward acceptance. Dunn and Atkins make the point that even if people disagree with the policy they will appreciate the courtesy of being told why the change is necessary.
  4. Make the policy stick. Dunn and Atkins point out an obvious reality. Employees typically do not take the time to know what their workplace policies even say, let alone what they mean. Employees only “get” the policy when they must confront it because it applies to them. To get a new policy or changed policy to stick with employees, Ms. Atkins explains NAVEX’s approach. NAVEX produces small videos on policy change that communicate the policy in interesting or humorous ways so employees are getting something more than just a dry policy statement to read and put to the side.  Many smaller companies do not have the resources to use such a tool. But an inexpensive alternative for HR when communicating the new policy in a meeting, for example, could be to have another employee(s) act out short skits or scenarios that portray potential situations and how the policy would apply to them.
  5. Be prepared for questions and complaints. First, employers should set up a mechanism separate from the employee meeting itself to handle complaints or questions about the policy change. Second, because most employees go to their managers to complain or point out an inconsistency, make sure those managers are prepared to handle their questions or comments.  They suggest an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page for managers and supervisors. A well designed FAQ can provide standard responses to typical questions about the policy.

Today, policy changes are needed faster than ever, with less time and opportunity for them to be thoroughly vetted before they must be implemented. The above tips comprise a good plan for rolling out new or significant policy changes at your organization.

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