Policies, Policies Every Where

Here’s a guest post by our very own Team SocialFish risk manager, Leslie White.  Follow her on Twitter at @ltwhite, and check out her brand new and totally awesome blog, Risky Chronicles.


Policies, Policies Every Where

Nor Any Person to Read

First, my apologies to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but all associations seem to have a plethora of policies – some good, some not so good. As a part-time SocialFisher, Maddie, Lindy and I are writing a white paper on social media policies (coming soon, I promise). While working on the paper I referred to my workshop for nonprofit executives, entitled Writing Policies: A Risk Management Perspective. We all write policies, but few of us think about what makes a policy good, fair and enforceable.  We offer this checklist . . .

  • Start with trust – A good policy starts from a position of trust–belief that your people want to do the right thing. The job of the policy is simply to guide your people on the desired behaviors and activities. A policy focused on what and how to do something is preferable to a long list of what you don’t want the people to do.
  • Practical – A good policy reflects your association’s values and culture. If the organization trusts and empowers its employees, then the policy is more flexible and grants greater discretion to the employees. The policy should be intuitive to your employees and members based upon their understanding and acceptance of its culture. Employees should not have to review the policy every time they need to act but only when they are presented with a new or unusual situation.
  • Educate â€“ Whatever the policy topic, it as much about education as “rule making.” If people understand the “why†of the policy they are more likely to follow it. Use your policy to help your people be successful.
  • Avoid absolutes – Eschew establishing a “zero tolerance” policy; avoid using words such as “must, shall, always, and never.” Zero tolerance is very difficult to enforce and limits your options in addressing a transgression. You will never identify the multitude of ways a person can make a mistake (people can be very creative). Management needs to be able to use their discretion in addressing situations they never considered; to be able to assess each infraction and determine the appropriate discipline.
  • Consistency – The policy needs to be consistent throughout the organization. You can grant different privileges to different personnel levels but the privileges and expectations need to be constant for all people within that level. Enforcement also needs to be consistent so that the same discipline is given to a similar infraction. Being consistent and even-handed will help you keep your efforts on course while avoiding accusations of favoritism or discrimination.
  • Enforceability – Only implement a policy you can enforce. If you can’t enforce the policy equability, allegations of favoritism – or worse, discrimination – can derail your efforts. You need to have the means and resources to monitor activity and take the appropriate action if someone violates the policy.
  • In plain language – Avoid the use of legalese or highly technical language (unless you are a technical organization). A policy that is easily understood encourages meaningful and appropriate participation.
  • Friendly – You don’t want people to be put off by your policy…quite the opposite. You want them to feel like it is safe to engage because they know what’s expected of them.
  • Handling mistakes – Hopefully no one will violate your trust or policy but you need to inform them how mistakes will be handled.
  • Due process – A person that violates the policy should have access to due process by being able to present her side of the story. Due process is especially important if the infraction has serious disciplinary consequences.

We hope this checklist helps you evaluate your existing policies and provide guidance for writing future guidelines and policies. Good luck!

  • Poem of the week: The Waste Land by TS Eliot | Carol Rumens (guardian.co.uk)