Written by Scott Williams.
I found myself locked out of our company storage closet at 5:00 PM on a Friday, needing to get into it to secure a projector for an early morning meeting the upcoming Monday. Earlier in the day I mistakenly checked the projector off my to-do list, thinking I had already placed it with my meeting materials. However, it was now after business hours, everyone had gone home and I was in a tight spot. I promised our speakers a projector on Monday and it was safely sitting on a shelf behind a thick, heavy door with a shiny, and quite sturdy, lock.
Now, I have a key to our office but I do not have a key to our storage closet. As part of our office policy and company accreditation, employees do not have access to all items and areas of our company. This policy checks-and-balances employee power, making sure that no one employee has too much reach. If, for example, one unhappy representative decided to go rogue, so to speak, he or she could not leave the company, and our clients, penniless and void of all equipment and resources. A smart policy, in my opinion, but one that was not playing in my favor at the moment.
I knew our office manager had a key so I sent a text to her but she was out-of-pocket for the weekend. Our president had a key but she was across the country at another client’s meeting. As my panic level steadily rose, my mind raced for viable options. In my desperation, I remembered that the building manager would have a key: she generally stayed late so I could slip down there, get her to open the door and all would be good. Yes! All would be good.
As I walked towards her office, though, I felt an uneasy feeling rising in me. I asked myself, are you doing the right thing here? Yes, you need the projector for company and client business but are you operating within the boundaries of your company’s access policy? The building manager can open the closet but should she? Would this action be in line with company policy and the guidelines set forth by your company accreditation?
It is important, at this point, to review what exactly a policy is and what it means. According to the American Society of Association Executives, policy is defined as what an organization will or will not do1. Policies can be looked at as a company’s laws. The Business Dictionary states, “A set of policies are principles, rules, and guidelines formulated or adopted by an organization to reach its long-term goals and typically published in a booklet or other form that is widely accessible.2” Our access policy is clearly stated in our employee handbook, which is publicized and distributed to all company employees. We take policy seriously and we expect all employees to do the same.
In fact, respect for policy is so important to our organization that we have earned association management accreditation from AMC Institute (AMCI). AMCI explains accreditation as “The accreditation process improves management practices by providing firms with a defined set of ‘best practices’ around establishing internal quality service systems while developing and improving important company policies and procedures.3” We are proud of our accreditation: we worked hard to secure it, it is a selling feature to prospective clients and we constantly remind our current clients we have earned it. At that moment, though, on that particular Friday evening, I was pretty certain that finding a loop hole in policies set forth in our accreditation regarding access to information did not constitute a “best practice” in my book.
As I reached for the handle of our building manager’s door, a simple and clear thought came to me: our policy is that those employees who hold the key will open the closet, those who do not will not; and by asking someone else to open it, especially someone outside of our organization, I was currently breaking policy. I was not permitted to open the closet. To do so would be a violation of company policy, an undermining of our company accreditation and a violation of our client’s trust. I removed my hand from the handle, turned-toe and headed back upstairs.
As I returned to our office, I calmed down and looked closer at my situation. I looked up our president’s travel schedule in our company calendar and saw that she was returning late this very same night. I texted her and asked if she could open the closet for me over the weekend. I received a quick reply of “Yes” and my anxiety was quickly replaced with relief. I was going to obtain the materials I needed and I would not be guilty of violating company policy. Our company accreditation served its purpose and best practices were performed.
It is important to remember that company policies are laws. They are put in place to govern the operations of your company, give your employees guidelines for acceptable job performance and to help ensure your and your client’s success: both now and in the future. In fact, according to Michael Griffin in his book How to Write a Policy Manual, “With good policies in place, staff is able to execute their duties; they are free to act within the limits set by policy; without constant managerial oversight. In that way, policies empower staff to do the right thing.4”
No one within a company and no action is above company policy governance. Your company policies are in place to protect your organization, your employees and your clients. If you do not have an official office policy manual in place, or do not have it published where all employees have clear access to it, now is the time to take action.
Below are some resources to help you develop your office policies and to create a sound company manual:
- 1 American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Essentials of the Professional Learning System (2002): 1-125. Print.
- 2 polices and procedures. BusinessDictionary.com. WebFinance, Inc. October 25, 2016.http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/policies-and-procedures.html
- 3 “Accreditation – AMC Institute (AMCI).” Accreditation – AMC Institute (AMCI). AMC Institute, 27 Oct. 2016. Web. 27 Oct. 2016.
- 4 Griffin, Michael. How to Write a Policy Manual. N.p.: TemplateZone, n.d. Print.