Getting Started 101 - The Policy

Communicating what you want.

Frequently, I refer to these as policies, probably because of my background in process improvement, but what I want to talk about here is how you – as management – express your expectations in useful terms and formats for your team members.

This is the first in a series of short items on initiating a change management process in a useful and long-standing manner. This is also the first step in any successful attempt to manage the performance of any organization, group, team, department…

Many organizations show me detailed instructions on what people are supposed to (not) do, the tasks and reports they need to complete. These are procedures, not management expectations and, as such, are not necessarily helpful as they encourage blind obedience rather than successful results. Management needs to ensure that the right message is communicated so that people can focus on improving quality, efficiency, productivity, customer satisfaction, etc. When telling team members that they need to follow without questioning encourages a negative attitude in which people will complain about the inefficiency and bureaucracy without making any effort to improve the practices they dislike. This creates a negative atmosphere, bureaucracy and a serious negative impact on productivity and quality.

When deciding to move an organization forward, at any level, the first step should always be to educate the staff in understanding why this is an important activity and what are the objectives. A few steps to consider...

1. What’s special about your company?
Who are you, why would your customers want to work with you rather than with your competition? What is the added value you bring to your services and products? What should your reputation be in 5, 10, 15 years’ time?

When you talk about “quality”, what do you mean? We all understand “delivering on time” and “respecting the budget”, but what exactly is “quality”? If you were in competition with another company and you both delivered the same thing on time and in budget, why would yours be considered as better quality? What are the differentiating characteristics?

2. What results do you expect from your teams?
Surely you don’t expect them to always follow the same steps, do the same thing when they are working (unless you are designing a factory-style chain-work system). You expect your team members to make an effort, try to develop better products and services, you want them to identify where money and time are being wasted, how to improve the efficiency of the organization.

Express your expectations in terms of results, of outcomes. Don’t give as expectation that people use a specific technique for estimating, but that their estimates can be reviewed and validated by an independent colleague. The expectation should not be that they always meet their estimates and schedules, because that would just encourage them to over-estimate in order to make sure that they will have enough time at the end.


3. Put in place measurements which support your objectives
It is well known that people act according to the measurements by which they are monitored. When management talks about quality, but then only measures budgets and schedules, they are enforcing the message that quality is not as important as early and cheap.

Measure the quality of the work being done, measure the time wasted, the bottle-necks. Measure the cost of unidentified risks which became problems, measure the satisfaction of your team members as well as that of your customers. Measure the time spent correcting defects.


4. Enforce the right attitude
Make sure that the measurements being collected are being used for the improvement of the organization’s added-value and identify the things which need to be improved. Should anyone in the organization use these data to punish or reward team members, the value of the data being reported will immediately drop as people learn to fix the numbers to please management.


The usage of the data needs to be carefully communicated and understood by everyone and clearly explained within the policy. The data being collected needs to be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that the data being collected is providing added value.


5. Encourage dissent
Establish a clear path through which everyone can report issues, risks, problems, deviations from management expectations and misuse of information. “Whistle-blowers” should be encouraged: they are bringing to management’s attention issues which need action. They will allow the organization to move forward.

Your “policy” should identify as little as possible what people are supposed to do, but establish very clearly why particular attitudes, reports or results are expected. This should be strengthened through controls (measurements), checks (reporting structure) and balances (risk management) which reinforce a positive and constructive attitude.

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