What if Your Employees Wrote Your Policy Manual?

By Chris Bachinski written about 11 months ago

At Think Shift we have very few policies. The ones we have use transparency – along with our obligation to create success for our clients and our organization – as their foundation.

For example, our expense policy is:

  • Do what’s right.
  • Don’t do dumb things.
  • When you do, tell your team.
  • End of policy.

For the sake of transparency, all expense accounts, including those of the executives, are posted on our intranet for any employee to see. Do you think we are taking too much risk by having such a policy?

What would the employees write if they were told to create the policy themselves? I will come back to that at the end. 

My mentor, Dr. Krishnamurthy, advocates for being “dogmatic in your proclamation and pragmatic in your application” of policy. I would add to it: allow your people to determine when it is time to be pragmatic. If you are only ever dogmatic, your organization may be turning good customer experiences into sour ones. The idea is that when you're preaching a policy, you should be consistent and firm in what you're communicating, but realize that when it comes to a real-world situation, idealism sometimes has to take a backseat to realistically dealing with issues. Be flexible and realistic when it comes to living out the policy. 

For example, let me tell you my Air Transat experience to Mexico this past winter. (As a side note, whenever I write about a customer experience – good or bad – I always send a copy to the company.)

This was the first time we had taken an all-inclusive charter vacation as a family. Being a frequent traveller, I wanted to make sure we had good seats. Since we booked last minute, some reason or policy prohibited us from selecting seats for the departure flight – we could only choose them for the return flight. There was an upcharge on the premium seats, which I was fully expecting.

What I did not expect was that their system would book the four of us into the middle section of an emergency exit row. My youngest son is nine years old. I know the rules on other airlines: you must be 16 or older to sit there. I thought maybe because it was a center section and not directly next to the exit door it was OK – since the system allowed me to select the option and process the additional fee.

When we arrived for our return flight, we found we had been moved without being asked or notified. Worse, they moved us to terrible seats, even after we had paid the upcharge! When I reached out to the company, what do you think I received back? First Air Transat asked me for the same details I provided in my original email and a copy of my boarding pass. Why? Couldn’t they just look into their system? They certainly have more information on file than what I can remember. I replied with, “Look it up in your system. I don’t keep my boarding pass.” Next Air Transat sent me a policy:

“For safety reasons, passengers occupying emergency exit row seats must… If you or members of your party have to be moved because you do not meet the stated standard safety criteria, you will not be offered a refund.” 

The anonymous person who emailed me was clear; their policy was black and white as she dogmatically applied it to me. This now made me question their policy and processes. Did they create the process to allow their system to take my money, hoping they could apply policy and keep my $170? Am I being unreasonable? After all, I did screw up. It might seem like a small amount of money, but it took what was a good experience with Air Transat and turned it into a sour one. Will I fly them again? I doubt it, out of principal. 

Back to my earlier question: what if we allowed our staff to write all the policies for Think Shift?

When I first wrote the expense policy, people were concerned. They wanted rules. “What counts as a ‘dumb thing’?” some asked. Others thought this was a good thing; they are all responsible adults. I can tell you I was a little worried about my own policy. I asked myself, “Do I take liberties with expenses since only our CEO sees mine? Would I be OK with it being online for others to see?”

I would suggest that if the employees wrote the policies you would find:

  • The items they add would be around seeking clarity to help them do their jobs better.
  • They would delete items that are either preventing a great customer experience or preventing them from doing their jobs better. I call these the “business prevention policies.”
  • At the end of the exercise, employees would feel more ownership and obligation to what is written. 

Try it as a test. You might be surprised how much your customer experience improves as a result.