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Pat O'Toole's Dos and Don'ts of Process Improvement: DONT Establish Policies as Behavioral Guidelines

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Do your organization's software policies reflect senior management's true value and belief systems or were they copied from the CMM? Pat O'Toole explains why senior management needs to take a stance and say, "If you're going to be a member of this organization, you are going to behave this way."
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#6: DON'T Establish Policies as Behavioral Guidelines

The HR Director's assistant told him to take a seat, but he was much too nervous to sit. Pacing back and forth, he noticed the series of framed statements adorning the walls. After a moment he spotted the one he was looking for – the Sexual Harassment Policy. Reading it to himself, he didn't seem surprised by anything it contained until he saw the phrase "...deemed grounds for immediate dismissal."

Tiny beads of sweat formed on his forehead as the HR Director opened the door and asked him to come in. After gesturing for him to take a seat, she asked, "You know why you're here, don't you?"

"I'm afraid that it has something to do with my conduct in the mock assessment interview," he started, "and that my joke about 'size' not being important was deemed inappropriate. However, I never imagined that the Sexual Harassment Policy could have such severe repercussions."

"Actually I did hear about the 'size' comment and thought it quite clever. As far as the Sexual Harassment Policy is concerned, it's just a guideline, but you probably should be a bit more careful next time. No, we're here to discuss your upcoming college-recruiting trip ..."

Granted, if this were a novel it would probably be located in the fiction section on a shelf marked "Reduced for Immediate Clearance." HR policies, such as those related to hiring, confidential information, and yes, sexual harassment, are strictly administered and enforced by 99.9% of all companies. HR policies are not behavioral guidelines; they are behavioral requirements.

What about your organization's software policies? Do they reflect senior managements' true value and belief systems or were they copied from the CMM starting right after the words, "The policy typically specifies that..."? Do they reflect some ideal future state, or do they document mandatory behaviors that must be exhibited now? Do bad things happen to people who disregard or even blatantly violate a policy?

Policies are intended to demonstrate organizational commitment. It doesn't take commitment to copy text from the CMM, frame it, and hang it on a wall. It does take commitment for senior management to take a stance and say, "If you're going to be a member of this organization, you are going to behave this way."

Conformance to policy must be a prerequisite for the salary continuation program; repeated violations of policy should trigger outplacement assistance.

Management shouldn't "duck" behind the word policy – after all, if it looks like a guideline, is used like a guideline, and is enforced only as a guideline, it is a guideline.

OK, so your organization doesn't have policies per se, but a series of guidelines disguised as policies. So how do you transition from your current state to one where policies are true reflections of organizational commitment? This topic will be addressed in the next installment entitled, "Do: Establish Organizational Policies, not CMM Policies."

Copyright © Process Assessment, Consulting & Training 2002

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