Merge's Blog

Tag Archives: policies and procedures

So what is fairness anyway?

fairness - equivalent, not equalHow employees perceive fairness in the workplace is very important (as this funny video about an experiment with capuchin monkeys demonstrates), but in my conversations with leaders, I make it a point to separate equality from equivalency.  This may sound like I’m splitting hairs, but let me explain.

Fairness cannot be equal

Fairness should not (and cannot) be equal, it must be equivalent.  In other words, good leaders don’t treat all their employees exactly the same, rather they adapt their approaches to be more effective for different employees. Sure, that can translate into differences in how policies are interpreted and how rules are enforced, which may cause complaining, particularly from those employees who may feel like they are getting the raw end of the bargain.

Focus on doing the right thing … for the company AND the employee

Chances are that the employee who complains is likely the one who would complain about unfairness no matter what action or approach you took.  Continue reading

When the policy manual is a good thing …

Last year, one of my regular columns in The Globe & Mail was titled Three reasons to ignore your company’s policy manual and in it, I made the case for being flexible in the application of company rules and policies.  Which might lead one to think that I’m against policy and procedure manuals.  But regular readers of the blog will know that I’m not; in fact, I happen to think that procedure manuals are definitely worth the effort, particularly when it comes to training employees, or dealing with crisis situations.  CombinationLockThe best way for me to explain this apparent contradiction is to use the metaphor of an old-fashioned combination lock.  If you know the correct numbers and the right sequence for a specific combination lock, then you can be guaranteed that the lock will open.  Sure, you may get a little confused, or your hands may shake while you’re spinning the dial, but if the numbers and sequence are accurate, and despite the fact that you may need several tries, the ultimate outcome is that the lock will open.

Think about your procedure manual as the established record of the required numbers and sequence in a combination lock.  When needed, employees can gain access to this information, and even if they are inexperienced or unnerved, they can still deal with the situation; they can still open the lock to get the outcome they desire. Continue reading

Three reasons to ignore your policy manual

My latest Leadership Lab column for The Globe & Mail went up on their site earlier today

Three reasons to ignore your company’s policy manual

Yes, I know. Some of you think that this borders on blasphemy! After all, policy manuals are decrees and edicts that were painstakingly put together by teams of expert professionals, people who know what they’re doing. Sure. But I still stand by my unequivocal belief that corporate rule books were put together to offer guidance to leaders, not to handcuff and prevent them from using and applying good judgment. As far as I am concerned, policies are guidelines, not rules. And as the title of this Leadership Lab column suggests, I offer up three perspectives to make my point.


As always, I want to know what you think. Do you agree with me? Or am I treading on a slippery slope (downhill)? Please share your views directly on The Globe‘s site so that your insights are available to their significant readership. Or if you wish to comment in a more targeted way, drop me an email or send me a tweet (@mergespeaks). I’m eagerly looking forward to your reactions and perspectives (even if we don’t agree with one another).

And one last thing — do me one HUGE favour – help me get the word out … share the link with your staff and colleagues (easiest directly from The Globe‘s site using the share icon at the very top of the article). My objective is always to get the dialogue started so the more people who join in the conversation, the more I’ve succeeded in achieving my goal.  

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Here is a direct link to the article in case you need to cut and paste it elsewhere:

A yo-yo versus a pendulum: a metaphor for leadership

PendulumClockDr. Michelle May is my professional colleague, and a physician who focuses on mindful eating.  Her entire philosophy is to get people to shift their thinking from yo-yo dieting to a more gradual approach.  “The problem with the metaphor of a yo-yo is that are only two options — up or down,” says Dr. May.  “You’re either tightly wound up around rules and restrictions or you’re unraveling towards the bottom again.  You’re either dieting or you’re on a binge!”  Gradual weight management on the other hand is more like a pendulum.  While there are still the two extremes of using all your energy trying to stay in control (so dieting) and spinning out of control (bingeing), there is also the gentle arc somewhere in the middle where you are in charge.  And it’s that arc of the pendulum that should be your objective.

It occurred to me that this metaphor of the yo-yo versus the pendulum is also very applicable to leadership.  Continue reading

Procedure manuals are worth the effort

About sixty minutes into a recent ten-hour trans-Atlantic flight, our plane encountered an unexpected mechanical problem and the pilot announced that we were going to make an emergency landing at a nearby airport.  He went to some length to reassure us that it was not a crisis situation, but more a prudent precautionary measure given that the majority of our journey was over water.  We landed safely, the problem was fixed, and within another three hours we were on our way.  End of story.  What caught my attention though was what happened earlier in the plane, immediately after the captain’s announcement.  While passengers remained calm and composed, almost three-quarters of my fellow travelers leaned forward, pulled out the emergency procedures card from the seat pocket in front of them, and proceeded to carefully read the instructions.  It was interesting to me that merely an hour ago during the safety demonstration, the flight attendants had asked them to do exactly that, and almost nobody had complied.  But now, because of a potential crisis, everyone was concentrating closely on this very same information.

It got me thinking about the procedures manuals and check-lists that exist in the various departments in so many organizations.  Many managers and supervisors I work with advocate eliminating these documents.  They’re outdated most of the time, no one ever looks at them, it takes effort to keep them current – these are just some of the reasons I hear from those who would do away with them.  But the real worth in such documents comes during times of crisis.  It’s when things start to go wrong that people seek out the manuals and check-lists.  It’s when the unexpected happens that people turn to the security of what has been documented in writing.  All of which suggests that perhaps there IS value in job handbooks and process guides, even if it takes work to keep them current and even if they get outdated the moment they are completed.   What do you think?  Waste of time, or worthwhile effort?