Introduction

The differences between policies and guidelines are monumental for supporting a meaningful organizational climate and culture. This 2 Tips doesn’t focus on the legality issues surrounding to have policies or not to have policies. Rather, the human-to-human experience of supervising staff teams and working with program participants is central to today’s discussion.

This is an important topic because staff teams and program participants who devalue their policies and/or guidelines tend to do so because of the murky writing of the policy/guideline, the minimal communication about the purpose of the policy/guideline, and the lack of enforcement/encouragement to adhere. Staff teams and program participants that devalue their policies and/or guidelines can grow disenchanted with organizational expectations and be inadvertently harmed.

Let’s get clear on the definitions of policy and guideline, but be sure to check out the resources at the bottom to support you and your team in transforming policies into guidelines and vice versa, as appropriate.

Definitions

Policy:  You know you have a policy in front of you when there are consequences for neglecting to adhere to the instructions. There may also be criteria for under which conditions certain consequences are applied in a graduate manner. The content of the policy clearly indicates to readers that adherence is required.

Guideline:  You know you have a guideline in front of you when there are not consequences, but heavy encouragement to follow a practice. There may also be descriptions of the purpose and usefulness of the practice, educating the readers that there are benefits to their lives, to the organization, and to program participants.

Tip 1

Quickly assess which policies should actually be guidelines and vice versa.

Tip 2

Once there’s clarity, carefully transition organizational and programmatic policies to guidelines and vice versa.

Asses Policies & Guidelines

Getting clear on what’s up with your top five to 10 policies and guidelines will give you a sense of how your staff team and program participants experience those policies/guidelines. This clarity also gives you insights on where to go.

Below, score each policy and guideline to determine if it is serving your organization in its current form.

Is this policy legit? Explore the following questions:

A|  If adherence does not happen, are there clear, graduated consequences? (If “no,” either rewrite the policy or consider transitioning it to a guideline.)

B|  Are there threats of consequences, but no actual capacity to hold people accountable to adhere? (If “yes,” transition this policy to a guideline.)

C|  If adherence does not happen, are there legal ramifications for the organization and/or individual, directly or indirectly? (If “yes,” rewrite the policy based on legal best-practices for nonprofits.)

D| Does your staff team hate this policy and there are no legal ramifications for lack of adherence? (If “yes,” consider transitioning this policy to a guideline or doing away with it completely.)

E| Are your program participants confused about the purpose and other details of the policy? (If “yes,” rewrite the policy from the vantage point of program participants with attention to any legal best-practices for nonprofits with community-based programming.)

Is this guideline legit? Explore the following questions:

A|  If adherence does not happen, are there clear, graduated consequences? (If “yes,” transition it to a policy.)

B|  While there is no actual capacity to hold people accountable to adhere, is the importance and benefit clearly described? (If “yes,” keep this as a guideline.)

C|  If there are there legal ramifications for the organization and/or individual, indirectly, what does your legal counsel recommend? (If “yes” and your legal counsel recommends, rewrite the guideline as a policy based on legal best-practices for nonprofits.)

D| Is your staff team aware of this guideline and there are no legal ramifications for lack of adherence? (If “yes,” consider refining and rebranding this guideline or doing away with it completely if obviously not relevant to organizational and programmatic success.)

E| Are your program participants confused about the purpose and other details of the guideline? (If “yes,” rewrite the guideline from the vantage point of program participants with attention to the benefits of adherence.)

How to Transition to and From Policies & Guidelines

Similar to change management of other sorts, there are five hallmarks for a successful transition, including the following:

1|  Bring all organizational units (i.e. the team across unique roles) to the table to discuss a drafted roadmap for the transition. Use this time to get their feedback on finalizing the roadmap, considering how each unit and role is impacted by the transition.

2|  Develop diverse communication tools that support clarity and inspire commitment to the transition. These may include posters, flyers, emails, updates during established meetings, newsletter blurbs, goal setting during annual appraisals, and so forth.

3|  Refine and refine the written words of the policies and guidelines, meeting with diverse team members for their copy editing feedback and legal counsel as needed.

4|  Hold a special meeting or include time in an established meeting to finalize the adoption of the new policy/guideline. Make this an opportunity for formalizing and officiating with a tone that frames the transition as complete and benefits the staff team and/or program participants in concrete ways.