Policies exist in all parts of society, and we have been subject to them throughout our lives. They are generally well-intentioned, yet often elicit less than positive response – anything from the rolling of eyes to complaints about how policies don’t apply to a given situation. Company policies receive the same treatment and derision. If company policies were formed with good intention but now cause frustration, the question is should policies have expiration dates?
While policies aren’t food products, in short, the answer is yes. Here is why.
However well-devised and thought through, policies often have unintended consequences. People find loopholes to circumvent the policy – either for personal preference or to skirt the intended improvement. The policy rewards the wrong result, prompting ineffective behavior. Or sometimes the policy creates a new problem, perhaps more detrimental than the one that the policy intended to solve. All these outcomes are unintended or unforeseen. So if the policy had an expiration date, or had to be renewed after a review, adjustments could be made to address these unforeseen outcomes.
You’ve probably read of seemingly ridiculous old laws still on the books. They are the source of internet memes and the same eye rolling as the policies in your organization. According to this list from a law firm’s web page, women in Memphis, Tennessee can drive, but only if preceded by a man waving a red flag. Perhaps at a time when there were almost no drivers, and all were men, this ordinance (gender bias notwithstanding) made sense. And in New Hampshire, you can’t sell a lightning rod without a license. Perhaps there was a time when that technology was new and made sense.
These are obvious examples – but they point to an important point. As a simple example, how many of your policies don’t make sense now that people might not all be working in the office anymore? It might not look like licensing lightning rods, but is that policy helping or hindering results? By assigning expiration or review dates to your company policies, you will ensure that they continue to make sense in a changing world and workplace.
The culture of your organization may be changing, or you may want to change it. It is possible that existing policies and expectations make it unduly hard to make those changes. By putting expiration dates on company policies, they can be reviewed for their relevance and effectiveness, given the culture you are trying to promote on your team or in your organization.
To Stop the Proliferation of Policies
Think about it this way. If we add policies, but never let any expire, the number of policies will continue to grow. Sooner or later (likely sooner), this will stifle innovation and initiative, and place more focus on enforcement or compliance than on getting results. Unless you regularly review company policies for relevance and effectiveness, you will have an ever growing – and ever stifling list.
What Can We Do Now?
I recommend four steps to help with the proliferation of company policies.
- Limit the overall number of policies. Focus on guidelines and philosophies more than edicts. This allows for better communication, flexibility, and likely a stronger organizational culture.
- Involve more people in the creation of policies. If you do need a company policy, get more people involved. This is the best way to build understanding, commitment, and reduce the chances of unintended consequences.
- Set a trial period. Once a policy is created, consider a pilot or test period to see if it does what you want it to do.
- Set an expiration or review date on all policies. For all the reasons listed here, review all policies on a regular basis to make sure they are relevant and helpful to you reaching your organizational goals.
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Policies have become the go to communication of change at my workplace. Our policies are reviewed frequently as evident by the double digit version of each policy. We’ve taken to checking the policy library weekly in order to make sure we up to date. Having policies that fully expire would definitely lighten up our workload and empower us leaders to make decisions based on guidelines and values.