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There is no doubt that company policies can impact company culture. They can support culture, help to build a framework for some cultural changes, or they can destroy a culture. However, what should come first is the culture, then adopt policies that support that culture. Culture being defined as the values, beliefs and assumptions typically of the top leader (s) that become embedded in virtually everything we do at the company.
Letting culture drive policies can present an interesting dilemma for HR Professionals since there are many other factors that also drive policy development, such as:
The decisions you make around these factors and the resulting policies and procedures will impact the culture in your company. So let's review a few typical policy areas to see how you can keep our policies in line with culture.
Basically the law regarding treatment of employees is EEO which holds that virtually all employment matters should be free from harassment or discrimination. Beyond that there are many options. The best policy/practice is to treat all employees with respect and fairness. You can demand that they follow policies/procedures; or you can create a culture and environment where employees feel valued and want to uphold company guidelines. Which one is more appealing to you?
A culture that welcomes employee suggestions, gives employees some latitude in making decisions, and encourages employees to learn from their mistakes will create an environment where growth and development are more likely. Do you promote teamwork toward the company goals as well as rewarding personal achievement?
Managers are responsible for communicating and upholding the company culture. Environments where employees are not held accountable, whether managers or employees, can result in poor morale and affect the whole organization.
Various laws govern some policy provisions (ex. Wage & Hour laws). For example, the law says, with very few exceptions, exempt employees are paid on a salary basis and that partial day deductions may not be made from the salary (except FMLA). However, employers are permitted to substitute paid time off as long as the employee gets the equivalent of their salary. How does that practice fit your culture?
Some employers require exempt employees to substitute their paid leave (vacation, sick, or PTO) if they are absent during any part of the day for medical appointments or other appointments. Others require substitution if the employee is gone more than a half day. Still others do not require substitution at all, they just pay the employees, and deal with it as a management issue if it becomes excessive. These are all legal options. What works best for your company? Do you have a culture that requires employees to account for every absence? If not then incorporating a policy that requires substitution might not make sense. Do employees generally work 8-5 (or your normal hours) or are they expected to work as long as required to finish projects? Do you allow flexibility in scheduling as long as the work is accomplished on time?
Although you may use a guide such as CAI’s Employee Handbook Guide in developing your policies, they should be adapted in a communication style and tone that reflects your company's values.
I could go on and on. My main point is that your culture affects your ability to attract and retain talent and if you're not careful your policies can do the exact opposite. It's very easy to let one of the other factors push your policy into conflict with your culture, and the more policies you have like that the more your culture will suffer. And with technology your culture is much more transparent allowing potential customers, applicants, and vendors to see how you operate. Employees or former employees rate you on GlassDoor; Angie’s List, the Better Business Bureau and other sites rate performance/service; some government agencies (EEOC, OSHA, W&H) expose violations on their websites. There are also sites that list the BEST places to work, preferred employers, family-friendly workplaces, companies who “go green”, those that hire veterans, etc.
So hold the mirror up to your culture and see if you like the picture that others will see, or if there are some areas that may need a makeover. Call me if you need help thinking through your various policy options.