The Human Resource: Policy versus practice

As a business owner, it is a great feeling when you have examined your workforce and designed an effective infrastructure for your employment practices. Policies were carefully and deliberately designed to educate the workforce on expectations, communicate benefits and programs, and establish guidelines for workplace behavior and job performance.

Prior to issuance of these policies, you examined the regulatory obligations of your organization and established standards to achieve or exceed compliance. Policies were issued, training was conducted, and everyone enjoys a better workplace because of your efforts.

However, this is a fairy tale story that is far from what most businesses experience from a practical and realistic perspective. What you just read above reflects what most business owners desire and believe happened or is currently in place. Unfortunately, there is often a disconnect between the owner and the employees over time, especially as growth takes place and the layers of employees, supervisors, and managers increases.

If you walk into a business and speak to the CEO or business owner about the culture and status of policy adherence and compliance, I can almost guarantee that you will not receive the same response from the janitorial staff, front desk reception, or most of the front-line staff in the workforce. There are a plethora of issues that cause this situation, where the perceived or desired status of the business is different from the reality, but this article is only interested in the specific challenges related to policy perception and practice.

“Your Honor, I know Ms. Jane Doe didn’t handle the employee properly and that several aspects of her actions and behaviors were not legal. However, our policy states the right way to do things and her practices were just not aligned.” This is never an acceptable defense for the actions and behaviors of your supervisors or managers in the workplace. In fact, the unfortunate reality may be that you are operating in a vacuum and fail to recognize that current practices are not reflective of the policies regardless of the practices being performed intentionally or unintentionally.

When a disconnect in established policy and executed practice happens, the workforce is exposed to risk and liability that should become a priority for management to resolve. Avoid living in a bubble of rainbows and unicorns thinking everyone is in compliance with your policies and current practices match those policies. Again, it is rare in my experience for any workforce practices to match exactly the policies established to govern the workforce.

Prudent action must be taken to understand what current state practices are and determine a few things about the differences. (1) The change in practice may be indicative of process improvements or changes that are more practical and effective for the business and should drive changes to the policies. (2) The change in practice is a result of failed accountability of the workforce and employees are not adhering to established expectations, exposing the business to risk. (3) The change in practices is the result of failed onboarding and training programs, resulting in employees taking it upon themselves to figure out how to get the work done.

There are other catalysts and reasons for the disconnect, making it apparent that review and analysis of your current policies and practices is warranted on a periodic basis. I recommend an annual review of your policies to determine: (1) what may be changing in your organization to warrant modification to policy; (2) what training may be necessary to reinforce policy expectations; and (3) where accountability of job performance and behavior is taking place so you can work with your supervisors and managers to correct this problem.

Business owners, please protect yourself and the company you worked so hard to build by taking necessary steps to ensure your practices are aligned with your established policies.

* The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to

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About Warren Cook

Warren S. Cook is a co-founder of SymbianceHR and leads all client-consulting engagements. He is a human capital strategy management subject matter expert with more than 20 years of experience as a strategic business partner, project manager, and people leader across private and public sectors organizations. Warren is responsible for all client-consulting engagements from initial needs assessment and compliance review through delivery of customized complex human capital strategy solutions that meet the client's business goals. He has a proven track record of providing executive coaching and guidance to business leaders and human resource professionals at all levels including the C-Suite of Fortune 100 companies. Warren combines his human capital, project management, and business management experience with a philosophy of solving business challenges through the strategic implementation of policies, processes, and procedures to deliver sustainable solutions that demonstrate ROI, mitigate and manage risk, and empower organizational success. Warren is the author of “Applicant Interview Preparation – Practical Coaching for Today” and holds a bachelor of science degree in human resource management, a master’s of business administration in project management, and a master’s of science degree in industrial and organizational psychology. He is also a SHRM Certified Professional.



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