How to Effectively Roll-Out an Employee Policy
Introducing any kind of change is hard. Same goes with introducing new policies to employees. Whether those policies are designed to address HR requirements, regulatory compliance mandates, or formalise IT processes, it can be a challenge. Employee policies are a make-or-break road map for organisations to hire and retain the right kind of people. Most often than not, understanding policies is low on the priority of employees. The organisation usually sends out an email about it. Is it ever taken as seriously as launching a new product or product variant? Rarely.
Also, employees do not take an active interest in such matters; employers send out long emails that don’t make the cut. In my opinion, leaving it up to the employee to read the policy when they want is not ideal as it is unlikely to happen. The policy is meant to make it easy for employees to operate within a certain boundary and to facilitate decision making for managers with respect to employee matters especially while reprimanding.
A well thought out policy can avoid confusion, set expectations for employee conduct, and also serve as a safeguard for the company when employees do not meet those expectations. On the other hand, a poorly communicated employee policy can create confusion. It can hamper an employer’s ability to respond effectively and consistently to critical situations in the workplace.
Therefore it is in the company’s interest to effectively introduce a new or updated policy.
Finding effective ways to implement new policies and procedures can increase adoption and policy compliance. Following these best practices, the management can help ensure a smooth roll-out the next time your organisation introduces a new policy or implements changes to an existing policy.
1. Have a policy roll-out plan
Perhaps it’s new management at the helm; or a new law to adhere to; or a new business strategy. Whatever it is, there’s inertia in updating or rolling out the plan and most people aren’t terribly excited about doing this. The fact of the matter is, like any other launch (especially a new product), a new policy or a policy update communication must be planned too.
Will it be done through a team meeting? Should there be a workshop conducted by HR? Does it require people to read a document and sign it along with the workshop? Do you give them an at-a-glance pointer if it requires so? All these need to be assessed. For example, as a practice, many organisations do a soft launch with team leaders first and get their buy-in and make sure their questions are answered before they introduce the concept or idea to the team.
Having a plan means, it’s imperative to first be clear about what is important enough to introduce and to change. This means you should go through the employee policy manual at least once a year. It’s not a one-off document where you formulate it and let it gather dust. Also go keep yourself abreast with updates in the law from time to time.
For some, a good time to review policies is the beginning of the year (whether it’s a calendar year or a financial year). Others review it when they have a new business strategy that employees need to be aware of and comply with.
No matter when you review the employee policy manual, once you decide what new policy needs to be introduced, have a tight plan about when you want to roll it out so you can ensure that everybody is on board. Every single employee has to know what the change is and has to be a part of it.
Avoid giving yourself a very flexible or elaborate timeline. Policy matters need to be taken up promptly and besides, a new policy will not help if it takes a year to roll out. Would it?
2. Establish the need for a policy or updating the policy among employees
A policy has to be put in place when there’s a need-based on government laws and regulations compliance, or a need to create consistent standards and rules to make sure there is fair treatment of employees (like eligibility of benefits, or extra time).
In my experience, 6 out of 10 employees are unaware of why employee policies exist, especially at the entry and junior level. The same employees eventually grow within the organisation and still remain unaware. It is this very lack of awareness that then comes in the way of their team management later in their career. It also has a huge detrimental impact on the company culture. How and why? Because if someone does not understand the reason behind why a policy exists; they are not likely to be able to rely on the policy to drive the desired way of work.
Employees have to be made aware through various internal channels about why a new policy is going to be rolled out or why a particular policy is being updated. Of course, I don’t mean that the communication should be simply that it is mandatory by law and hence a new policy is being rolled out. What I do mean is that the real purpose of having the policy should be clearly communicated to drive commitment.
For instance, introducing a no gifting policy in the company could send out the wrong message that the employer feels the employees are dealing under the table while the real reason is to discourage any kind of bias they may develop subconsciously or forced into at any stage.
It helps to have team leaders’ buy-in to the policy before it is rolled out. Once they see the reasons behind the introduction, they can then play the part of helping their team members see the same. It also gives the employees a chance to raise the question before the rollout, creating a feeling that they are also part of the process.
However, it must be noted that if they do give their inputs and suggestions that cannot be practically implemented they are likely to feel disappointed and feel like it is just a cursory exercise. So, make sure all open loops are closed. If you are inviting suggestions, be sure they understand exactly why their suggestions are accepted or denied. And most importantly how it does or does not contribute to the reason behind the rollout.
3. Communicate the policy changes effectively to employees
Long emails are passé. Few people read them beyond the first paragraph. So, it’s more effective to send shorter, tighter emails. If the document is being made available on a common server for universal access, make sure all relevant documents are updated and remove all old copies of manuals and replace with new ones. If required, engage the employees through training.
Feel free to experiment with innovative ways of policy roll out such as preparing information nuggets, quiz, fun and games, town hall, teaser posters, etc. If training is not required, make sure that an announcement is made at the right forum regarding the updated rules. It should also be added to the organisation’s employee handbook or intranet and included in new-hire orientation programmes.
Employers should notify employees where they can access the policy later (links to an intranet site, attachment of policy to print and add to their employee handbook etc.). It is essential to offer support by not closing the doors. Employees should be given enough time to get comfortable with the idea of any change.
Finally, make sure that you are available to answer any questions raised by employees and address grievances. Again, it helps to reiterate that policy documents are not meant for one-time use. So to keep employees constantly in the loop is the duty of the company.
4. Make it your agenda to ensure everyone has read the new policy at least once
Finally to close the loop every employee of the company has to read the policy at least once. This is where most companies go wrong. It is time-consuming but critical, especially if it is an important policy such as Prevention of sexual harassment at workplace (POSH) or grievance handling or the number of working days in a week or new type of incentive or even an update in code of conduct. Sometimes a simple strategy to get people to sign that they have read the new policy will encourage them to go and read it before signing for it.
You can also prepare a schedule to check with all employees sequentially, once again explain the need of the policy if need be and then schedule a follow up depending on the criticalness of the policy to ensure employees have completed reading it.
Being in the policy custodian is tedious but a responsible role and more importantly, a role which requires the person to meet the goal with patience.
Clear employee policies provide employees with knowledge about what is expected of them vis-a-vis behaviour and performance standards. It helps provide a consistent and clear response across the company in dealing with situations, makes sure employees are treated fairly and equally, provide an accepted method of dealing with complaints and misunderstandings to help avoid claims of bias and favouritism, and ensures that you are better equipped to defend claims of a breach of employer obligations.
Bottomline is not having a manual can cause chaos! And more importantly, how it is put in place makes all the difference.
At Yellow Spark, we design tailor-made employee policies and help you implement them effectively. To know more please write to us at email@example.com
Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.