Given the thought, resources and energy we put into developing and implementing workplace policies it’s important that they hold value. It’s worth recognizing however that how we see the worth of something is a yardstick of our own internal ideals, rather than how others necessarily evaluate an item. We cannot therefore automatically achieve more uniform positive response to policies, irrespective of process or substance, unless they incorporate some shared meaning.
Perspective helps. Policies win few awards and this is certainly not the objective when embarking on programs to initiate or review them particularly related to diversity. Workplace policies are about maintaining coherent organizational management. They act as a framework for behavior and decision making. A workplace policy creates certainty related to management’s intent.
Policies do not sit at the top of the hierarchy of importance, either to you are anyone else. What is really at the heart of any policy are the independent principles enshrined in them. This is the correct focal point of assessment as it reflects the organization’s most fundamental commitments. The Oxford dictionary reinforces this providing the definition of principles: “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of beliefs or behaviors or for a chain of reasoning”.
In light of this, the most important task for top management at the outset must be to reflect authentically on what their “truth” is in relation to Diversity and Inclusion before dealing with workplace policy formulation.
First Things First
Getting shared clarity on key workplace diversity principles such as the following is indispensable: treating people with respect and dignity; valuing the difference and diversity of people; eliminating unfair and inappropriate barriers; and making judgements based on equity and merit.
The principle “truth” test can then be easily applied during policy development and implementation. For example, if outdated maternity leave policies exist or the organization has inflexible work arrangements or skewed salaries covering female employees, demanding questions can be asked. If we apply the principle of say Respect, what does this commitment to Respect translate to in policy formulation practice? What would be the results that we could then measure as a target?
The beauty of a principle is that it encompasses a host of often shared beliefs. Respect for example communicates appreciation, worth, acceptance etc. etc. Chosen principles steering policies should also be as unique, in many respects, as organizations themselves. Whether it is Humility to support listening and interaction expectations or Transparency to generate trust etc. Once the principle is interpreted in relation to Diversity and Inclusion it will have shared meaning and drive cultural evolution.
This Consistent focus will expand a principle driven mindset increasingly within the organization and support a principle driven approach in the execution of policies. In addition, clear alignment between various policies and their underpinning standards, procedures and guidelines emerges.
Ultimately the clearer an organization is about its principles, the less it is in danger of simply making empty corporate statements or being accused of merely giving lip service to espoused commitments.
John C. Maxwell wrote “Policies are many, principles are few, policies will change, principles never do”.
This sage insight into the difference between policies and principles reinforces the balance we need to strike in their relative importance plus how to blend them towards more enduring success.