What Makes for an Effective Policy?

Several characteristics of a policy render it effective. Effective policies are actionoriented guidelines that provide guidance. They provide enough detail to direct behavior toward a specific goal or objective but are not so detailed that they discourage personnel from following the policy.

An effective policy is relevant (avoiding trivial or unimportant issues) and concise (stating a position with a minimum number of words). An effective policy is unambiguous, allowing personnel little doubt as to how to interpret the policy’s intent and direction. Policies that are subject to different interpretations will, over a period of time, result in several possible outcomes. This can lead to inconsistent behavior, as people will simply ignore the policy because it is so difficult to interpret.

Another characteristic of effective policies is that they are timely and current, which assumes that they are periodically reviewed for clarity and conformance. A policy is ineffective or counterproductive if it is confusing, ignored, or outdated. For example, in the opening vignette, each cement plant was operating under a different set of rules, and everyone was essentially ignoring the fact that a common set of policies or procedures existed. Policy formation and review should be a dynamic activity undertaken at least once every year or so. A policy may be timely and correct but not properly enforced by management. In this case, it is management’s responsibility to reeducate the workforce about the policy’s intent. There is no other substitute for detailed training on policies, to ensure that everyone understands how to do their jobs.

The following characteristics apply to effective policies:

  • Action oriented
  • Relevant
  • Concise
  • Unambiguous/well understood
  • Timely and current
  • Helpful in solving problems

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