Is policy dead?

If we look at the early nineties it seemed to be a vibrant time in which people came up with new ideas and policies and procedures were used actively as tools in business to streamline and standardise the way things needed to get done.

 

The science of business process engineering looked at how policies can be used to effectively streamline businesses and flows in an organisation to get the best out of people.

 

The dark world of business process re-engineering looked at how to get rid of policies that became too much in themselves.

 

It seems that too much policy possibly killed the idea to the extent that organisations often feel that they need to throw out the rulebook and go bravely into a territory in which policy is loosely defined.

 

Somehow it seems that the gentle art of making balanced policy had died. And it will be sorely missed as more and more people are getting stuck on delivering consistently with a thin framework on which to fall back to find out how things should get done. Often the missing link between execution and strategy is found in well-designed business models that are linked to the relevant areas of business through well-defined policy.

 

It is as if we got rid of policy – only to discover that without it, the organisation is exposed to the poor management of ever faster changing staff. The tendency to be agile has isolated the few managers that know at the top and has disempowered workforces and the policy making process gets relegated into the field of signing new service level agreements with new suppliers – without enabling existing staff to effectively manage the business requirements.

 

To get a business to grow, or a public organisation to deliver service, it needs stable and predictable policies that allow for the linking of desired end results to financial requirements and people resources. A business also needs to understand a policy as a set of choices and put in place the necessary means to support it, execute and maintain it. Policy is not a purpose in itself, but a tool in ensuring that an organisation remains well run.

 

Policy is what drives the definition of service and serves as a contract between management, the organisation and its other stakeholders, both internal and external. This definition is something that becomes enforceable and tangible, has financial and cost implication and should reviewed for efficacy from time to time.

 

By having clear policy we protect the organisation. When somebody says that this is what happened, we can go back to policy and say but that is what is supposed to happen and use this as a pro-active tool in responding to this and future issues.

 

Yet – organisations do not have policy experts, and where they exist, they tend to be legal minds that operate behind closed doors – not understanding the nuts and bolts of the business.

 

We need to take policy out of the cupboard and wear it as a standard that defines what can be achieved here. The linking of policy to vision and action in the business makes it an effective tool to break down silo’s and to systematise organisational improvement. Effective policies shape the behaviours and attitudes of staff and will create the effective framework to shape how people view the organisation.

 

To make policy effective is not an easy task. There are many factors and variables that need to go into it. There are also critical processes that need to be considered in ensuring that a policy is an effective tool. While you can learn a lot more about this in the Regenesys course on policy development. To evaluate your policy making today you may be able to use this short guideline to see where your organisation ranks on a participation scale

 

  1. Contribution: voluntary or other forms of input to predetermined programmes and projects.
  2. Information sharing: stakeholders are informed about their rights, responsibilities and options.
  3. Consultation: stakeholders are given the opportunity to interact and provide feedback, and may express suggestions and concerns. However, outsiders usually make analysis and decisions, and stakeholders have no assurance that their input will be used.
  4. Cooperation and consensus building: stakeholders negotiate positions and help determine priorities, but outsiders direct the process.
  5. Decision-making: stakeholders have a role in making decisions on policy, project design and implementation.
  6. Partnership: stakeholders work together as equals towards mutual goals.
  7. Empowerment: transfer of control over decision-making and resources to stakeholders.

 

By making this simply analysis you can evaluate if your policy environment is healthy. Anything less than 3 both means that you are distressed or that your policy is ad-hoc and needs a serious looking at.

 

You need to do this evaluation every six months to ensure that your policy environment remains relevant and that you keep track of how external changes are affecting your organisation.

 

Sometimes the answer is not more policy – but less. But this is still policy making. Often we assume that we have all solved the policy question, or maybe we have all gotten so tired of ill formed policies that we are happy to look at bureaucracy as the way to go. We accept ill crafted ideas and policies and do not look at how to make this an agreement that is the best interest of organisations.

 

Conclusion

 

As businesses grow and become more focused on its customers and innovation, the policy environment creates a language by which different parts of the organisation can agree on how things are done.

 

Too often these processes get buried so deeply that it is tempting to think that there is no value in policy. Policy is a vibrant and active tool that can be used to shape organisations and institutionalise desired behaviours and create links between strategy and execution.