Workplace Communication

7 Reasons Your Policies and Procedures are Useless

7 Reasons Your Policies and Procedures are Useless

As some of you may remember, I wrote a post awhile back about the 8 Reasons Organizations Need Standard Operating Procedures. Although I know they are time consuming to write and can be a challenge to keep current, I hope you agreed after reading the post, that it’s critical that organizations have them and why.

This week, I worked with two different organizations facing crises related to their policies and procedures.

The first only implemented Standard Operating Procedures within the past year. Although well written, well thought out, and relatively thorough, I shared my concerns with the organization’s leadership that the time and effort put into writing them would be wasted if certain factors weren’t put into play. This week, due to a safety incident, my prediction sadly came true. Although the organization had procedures in place that could have helped prevent the incident, they were not properly implemented and lives were lost.

The second organization’s story was a bit different. Although some policies and procedures were seemingly in place, few were written down. Many of the organization’s managers didn’t feel the need to “push them on people” because, “they’re grown adults and I’ve told them what they need to do.” However, as I walked into the organization this week, I could see procedures being violated, within open view of management, yet no one took action to correct the situation. Although the procedures in this incident weren’t life and death, they had an impact on the overall success of the organization, customer service, and jeopardized the careers of those who weren’t following them.


So what do these organizations and others like them have? Policies and procedures that are useless. Here are 7 reasons why:

Policies and Procedures must be enforced. Policy and Procedure words on a matrix to illustrate a company's practices being in line with its rules and regulations

1. Employees haven’t been properly trained in the procedures.

It’s useless to have a process in writing if the employee who is supposed to be using the process doesn’t understand the instructions. Training in SOPs is critical to their implementation. Simply handing employees an SOP and telling them to sign a piece of paper saying they’ve read it is not enough. Trainers, supervisors, or mentors should be side-by-side with employees as they navigate procedures for the first time, ensuring the steps are understood and followed.

2. Employees do not have the proper tools to carry out proper procedure. 

In both organizations, employees are lacking some of the basic tools that would allow them to follow procedure. In one instance, employees are supposed to be using a certain piece of safety equipment while doing the job. There are 10 employees all doing the same job and eight pieces of that safety equipment. I’m sure I don’t need to explain the math on that one to you. You can’t expect employees to follow a procedure and you definitely can’t hold them accountable for not doing so, when you’re not able to provide the proper tools. In this specific instance, either new equipment should have been purchased immediately, or the procedures and expectations should have been changed.

3. Employees receive contradictory communication from senior leadership and their direct management.

In one of the organizations, employees had in-depth meetings during the annual company meeting to discuss the importance of their new procedures and the importance of carrying them out correctly. However, when the employees returned to their home offices, many of their managers “set the non-example” by overtly flaunting the fact that the managers themselves weren’t going to follow the new procedures. Another manager told his employees to do whatever they wanted to on a daily basis, but to be sure to follow procedures whenever senior leadership visited their location.

4. Managers don’t hold employees accountable for not following procedures.

I asked a senior manager at the second organization why it was that we were sitting there watching an employee break policy. His response was, “I’ve told their managers that they should talk to employees about this and the response was, ‘I don’t see why I have to babysit grown adults. I’ve already told them what they’re supposed to do.” Ensuring compliance is the responsibility of every manager. It’s not enough to tell employees something and think your job is done.

5. Managers are unwilling or unable to coach employees who are doing a good job and those who need improvement.

It is always amazing to me the number of managers I meet who think it’s not part of their responsibilities to clearly and specifically praise an employee for a job well done or to clearly and specifically address performance problems. Regardless of their age or ability, people need feedback to perform at their best. If you want a great employee to keep being great, you need to provide positive feedback.  If you see that an employee’s performance has slipped, or she has never achieved her potential, you need to provide effective performance improvement feedback and if that doesn’t work, you need to move on to #6 below.

6. There are no consequences for not following policies and procedures.

In the first organization, the only accountability was that employees who broke procedure were chastised by their direct supervisor. However, beyond that, there were no negative consequences for their actions and in fact, the manager’s tone and manner in addressing the issue was to treat the issue with sarcasm and joking insults. From a communication perspective, this approach usually leaves employees wondering whether the issue is really serious at all, since the manager was usually sarcastic and joking in his interactions with them.

7. There are no consequences for managers who don’t properly supervise employees.

In both organizations, senior management knows that front-line leaders are not holding employees accountable, are not properly training employees, and are not providing appropriate performance feedback. However, they’re taking the same approach to the problem as their managers are taking – mentioning it and then moving on.

Although your organization may not have all seven of these reasons in play, it’s critical that leaders look at these common problems that nullify their policies and procedures. It’s not enough to have procedures in place in a binder on a shelf. They have to be valued, understood, practiced, and enforced. Are yours?


Amy Castro is a workplace and leadership communication expert, speaker, and author. The second edition of her book, Practical Communication- 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done, just hit the “shelves” of this week. 

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