Business Perspectives

October 3, 2013

Creating company-wide policies to deal with one problem employee not good management

Problem: Employee is doing something annoying or inappropriate

Problem: Employee is doing something annoying or inappropriate

Solution: Create a company-wide policy prohibiting the behavior

New Problem 1: Avoiding direct conversations

New Problem 2: Demoralizing 99 percent of your employees who are behaving properly

New Problem 3: Wasting everybody’s time

An article from Parade Magazine illustrated the problem. In the piece, Judith Newman’s solution to a reader’s complaint about a co-worker who clipped her fingernails in a public space was to recommend the supervisor issue a company-wide directive prohibiting the behavior. Newman’s rationale is that this behavior could easily escalate into flossing teeth and trimming nose hairs.

Newman’s solution suffers from three false beliefs that drive the ever-expanding policy manual in many organizations.

First, that the solution to an isolated behavior problem is a new policy.

False. The solution is a direct conversation with the employee and among employees. If supervisors had the courage and skill to speak frankly and compassionately about inappropriate behavior, we would have fewer policies and fewer behavior problems.

Second, there’s a belief that inappropriate behavior, if not nipped in the bud, will escalate out of control.

False again. Inappropriate behavior, when addressed directly, can usually be dealt with. Contrary to the fears of some supervisors, if we let nurses wear Crocs, they won’t start coming to work naked.

And third, some managers believe that policies are better than individual conversations because they avoid singling individuals out.

And another false. We know who you are. Other workers know who you are. You know who you are. Because many policies are designed to control the behavior of a small few, they do single people out while at the same time making it obvious to other employees that supervisors aren’t doing their job.

Great leaders are able to solve problems without creating new ones.

Don’t fall victim to these delusions. Have the courage and develop the skills to deal directly with inappropriate behavior instead of hiding behind another new policy. The result will be higher accountability, less wasted time, and better morale.

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