Effective policies require collaboration, reflection and resources to monitor compliance

Nov. 8, 2010
Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, contributing editor, says determine the reasonableness of policies you impose.

Here in Florida, there are certain weather events — hurricanes — that occasionally interact with us. The area where I live was hit with a series of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, which caused a sustained period of blue roofs of temporary tarps and damaged many other structures. Over time, the repairs were made. However, the lower priority repairs took some time to complete. Among these lower priority repairs was a particular beach crossover.


When I walked out to the crossover, many months after the hurricanes, I noticed a sign — “BEACH ENTRANCE CLOSED” — where the stairs leading to the beach had been removed. Standing on the stunted boardwalk, I noticed another sign that read “KEEP OFF DUNE.” More interesting was the well-worn pathway between that sign and the crossover, which clearly meant people weren’t paying attention to the sign. So, the question I asked myself was, “Why would people disobey a sign such as this?”

The folks that blazed that trail wanted to get to the beach. After all, the beach wasn’t closed. People knew they weren’t likely to be challenged in their non-conformance with the sign because this wasn’t a busy area. If there was no reasonable alternative for getting to the water, they didn’t see any reason to worry about the consequences of a small strip of disturbed dune.

I’m bringing up this seemingly insignificant situation to illustrate a point. Many new supervisors or managers react to problems by putting in place rules and policies to deal with various “problems” they perceive. Often, they impose these rules and policies through knee-jerk reactions that haven’t been thought through. The supervisor or manager might be thinking swift action needs to be taken.

It’s important to think through any policies you impose. Questions you should ask yourself include:

  • What’s the problem I’m trying to solve?
  • How do I communicate my reasons in a way that makes sense to others?
  • How do I gather input from the other stakeholders?
  • Do I have the resources that enable people to comply?
  • How can I monitor conformance?
  • How do I determine the policy’s effectiveness?
  • Do I have the authority, or influence, to correct non-conformance?

When you impose a policy, be clear about why you’re doing it, and you need to be able to communicate those reasons. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, whenever he was angry, disappointed or otherwise in a situation that clouded his thinking, wrote out what he intended to do. Then he would place the paper in his desk until the next day. If, on the second day, his response still seemed reasonable and proper, he carried through with it. Often though, he found that after a bit of solitude he would come to a better choice on what to do.

Gaining input from those who will be affected allows you to consider things you might have missed. Two heads, or three or four, are most often better than one. Their input often saves their supervisor’s butt. Don’t assume you’ve thought of everything or that only you have the answers.

Having the resources to inform, train and enable people to comply is something supervisors and managers underestimate. Managers sometimes exhibit a blind spot, believing everyone else thinks like they think and knows what they know.

If there’s no way to monitor compliance and measure the policy’s effectiveness, there’s no justifiable reason to impose the policy. Having the authority or influence to impose corrective action and following through on those corrective actions ensures the original problems are being addressed.

These guidelines should put you in a position to demonstrate that your policies are reasonable. If so, reasonable people will act in accordance with the policy, and they won’t walk a different path.

Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER. Contact him at [email protected] and (321) 773-3356.

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