3 tips for communicating policies

A sleeping woman with her head resting on the desk in front of her

I have blogged before about communicating dry subjects, including policies. Today I am sharing my thoughts about the wider meaning of communication of policies at an organisation.

Most organisations have policies that cover a wide range of areas:

  • From how they calculate annual leave to how the company’s bank account is used.
  • From how day-to-day processes comply with GDPR legislation to how they set and review employees’ salaries.
  • From how they ensure safeguarding of vulnerable clients to how they expect employees to conduct themselves on social media.
  • From how they recruit volunteers to how the organisation maintains its buildings safely and legally.

Right now, many organisations are grappling with the policies they need/want to shape their hybrid working practices of the future.

What’s the purpose?

Some of these are mandatory and an organisation must have them in place to achieve legal or regulatory compliance. Others are not set externally, but the Board or Senior Leadership team choose to put them in place.

Even those that are chosen can be driven by various factors. Sometimes a policy is instituted as a means of control, perhaps after something has gone wrong. For example, the organisation might introduce a social media use policy after a reputational issue caused by inappropriate tweets from an employee.

The driver is not always negative. I recently had a conversation with a Board who wanted to introduce a miscarriage policy. They wanted to show support to any employee who experiences such a loss, using a template provided by the Miscarriage Association.

Communication points to consider

Whatever the driver, there are 3 main areas to consider about your policies:

1. How is the policy itself written?

Some are long, dry documents that are difficult for the lay person to understand. Others are much shorter and more easily accessible. And you can also find examples anywhere in between.

As with all effective communication, it’s important to consider the context of your organisation and the outcome you want to achieve.

My personal preference would be to go for shorter, more engaging documents. That should mean everyone is able to understand what is being said and what is expected of them. If your employees are used to longer documents and want to know more than the core details, you might consider longer policy documents.

However, remember that the simpler you keep it, the more inclusive you will be. And this may well be one way to put your EDI policies into practice.

2. The factual content of the policy

What does it actually say? What direction or statement does it make about what is or isn’t expected or allowed?

On the face of it, this should be the easiest part of the communications job. But the mere mention of the word ‘policy’ can conjure up a boring image that puts people off reading further. So consider how to break up that dull image and make it more appealing. This content is too important to accept that people will simply switch off.

The timing of communication and location where the information is stored will make a difference to engagement levels. If people can find the information quickly and easily at the point in time when it is most relevant to them, engagement levels and appropriate outcomes will increase.

See my blog on communicating dry subjects for ideas.

3. The message you are conveying by even having the policy in the first place.

The number and type of policies that are in place says a lot about the character of the organisation. Who do you want to be? What messages do you want to send about what matters to you?

This type of communication is the most nuanced. Sometimes you need to be explicit about the reason for introducing a policy. For example, the organisation that introduced a miscarriage policy used the launch to talk about being a place of support for anyone facing a difficult time in their life.

Sometimes you are in ‘show not tell’ territory and can use stories to demonstrate the type of organisation you are. The formal policy becomes just part of that holistic approach to communication.

Actions not just words

Finally, you need to remember (and perhaps remind colleagues) that simply having a written policy and telling others about it is not enough. You need to have a culture where people follow the policies and treat each other accordingly. Without this, your communications are worthless and undermined by the reality of experience.

How do you communicate policies at your organisation? What have you learned along the way? Drop me a line to let me know.

Until next time

Photo by Houcine Ncib on Unsplash

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