5 Tips for Making Workplace Policy Changes Work
As Yahoo and Best Buy can probably attest, change isnt easy. The two companies grabbed headlines for revising their telecommuting policies recently, causing a stir among employees who were going to have to adaptlike it or not.
Grumbling is one thing. But one of the biggest legal risks companies face when making policy changes is that employees will experience disparate treatment, driving lawsuits on discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, according to compliance expert Shanti Atkins. What people do not accept is inconsistency, says Atkins, president and chief strategy officer of consultancy NAVEX Global. Thats where youll get people very, very upset, and having a very, very big reaction.
But while policy changes in the workplace aren't always popular, there is an art to executing a smoothand successfultransition. Whether you're rewriting the companys rules on cybersecurity, paid time off, or social media, says Atkins, The overarching lesson is: Be incredibly prepared, and have researched the issue from the top to the bottom of the organization.
Here are five steps companies can take to ensure a better workplace policy transition:
1. Find out how the existing policy really works
Before you even think about changing a policy, you need to understand how the current version functions in practice. Ive seen that happen in organizations very frequently, where its almost like youre too many steps ahead talking about what changes to make, says Atkins. And they may be very valid changes, but you dont have a firm grasp of how the policy is currently being utilized.
Its especially important to determine at this stage whether the current policy is being applied consistently. Are top performers getting special treatment? Do certain business units or managers handle cybersecurity, for example, differently than the rest of the company? There can often be a very big disparity between what the policy says and how its actually implemented, Atkins says.
2. Get (more) input
So you need to involve others in the company in discussing a policy changebut who? What Ive always advised clients is to do a very simple process map, says Atkins. In other words, if X happened, what would follow, and who would be impacted?
This exercise isnt meant to be too taxing. Nor is it to suggest that you need to make a decision with a committee or that everyone must agree. But even working through three or four scenarios will give you a clear idea of who to ask for input. Like most things in life, its the 80-20 rule: a few situation types drive 80 percent of the volume around the policy, Atkins says.
3. Explain, explain, explain
Granted, telling employees that theyre no longer allowed to use Facebook at work or that the company will now be monitoring their email arent the most crowd-pleasing measures. But if you let them know why management has decided these steps are necessary, these tough pills will be easier to swallow.
Even if people dont agree with the outcome, says Atkins, if theyre given the explanation, and theyre given the courtesy of the bigger picture as to why a rule is being put in place, theyre generally pretty good with it.
At the same time, if a change to something like a telecommuting policy will affect people differently depending on what they do, be up front about it. There needs to be real clarity around how does this policy apply depending on your job function, or even your location, says Atkins.
4. Make it stick
Heres a newsflash: employees dont always know what their workplace policies actually say. According to Atkins, What usually happens is: Theres a bunch of policies. Very few people actually read them and understand them, even though they attest to that. And then the only time they tend to engage with them is when the problem or challenge has already arisen.
Ensuring consistent treatment then, comes down to this: training and awareness. Policies, in short, have to be brought to life, Atkins says.
Theres a continuum here. Employees and employers only have so much timeso higher-risk areas will warrant more intensive trainings. But with something like telecommuting, Are you really going to do an hour-long training on that? Atkins asks.
Hence, the need for awareness. In addition to a well-versed explanation, employers can raise awareness by using any kind of visual tool that enlivens the policy. For instance, Navex produces short videos on compliance topics that can range from interviews with people on the street to scripted scenarios with a little bit of humor. The videos are interactive, posing questions to viewersand they have the added benefit of being accessible on mobile devices. Atkins and her colleagues call this approach Burst Learning: Its less than 5 minutes, its taking an issue and boiling it down to its essence.
5. Be prepared for questions and complaints
Employees often have questions about how a policy applies to themor they may want to lodge a complaint or allegation about a potential policy violation. Companies should create separate avenues for asking questions and bringing complaints. Its important when you institute a big policy change that could result in both complaints and questions, that you make those two channels very clear, says Atkins.
To avoid bottlenecks, she recommends designating more than one point-person in HR to handle questions. And its just as, if not more, important to prep managers in advance. In reality when most people are upset or have a question, they go to their manager, she says. So for people who have direct reports, you want to give them some elevated support in answering questions.
Atkins is a fan of providing managers with a set of FAQs that can be reasonably anticipated. Give them a written script, she says. Not that they have to read it verbatim, but so they get familiar with the right response. Its also another way to help ensure that managers are giving employees the same explanationsyou guessed itconsistently.