When advising management teams that are considering new policies, I always ask them to consider one question: “If your star employee violated this policy, what would you do?”
If the answer I get back is hemming and hawing and ultimately a sheepish, “Well, honestly, we’d probably look the other way or give him another chance,” it becomes clear that, at the very least, they shouldn’t state the policy in absolute terms (i.e., no use of the words “never,” “always,” and the like). Better that they have a vague policy — or no policy at all — than that they have a policy that they know they’ll never really enforce (or won’t enforce for everyone, in any case).
To reduce it to its simplest element, it’s all about “meaning what you say.” If you write “never” or “always,” you better really mean “never” or “always.” If not, your credibility (both legally and culturally) may never recover. Quite remarkably, a story emerged from the sports world that illustrated the “mean what you say” proviso quite dramatically. Continue reading