Good decisions need good policies
We walk a fine line as managers.
On the one hand we need to trust our staff and give them scope to use their professional skills and respond to diverse situations and clients. On the other hand, we need to ensure quality service provision and that staff act within the law, regulations and kaupapa of the organisation.
If we don't get the balance right, the consequences can be dire. If staff are left to decide every situation there will be inconsistencies galore and a high likelihood that something important is missed. Conversely, too many rules can quash worker spirit and prevent client-responsive practice.
Organisational policies and practices are key to getting the balance right. But as many of our clients ask us, how do you know what areas should be covered by policies?
In some areas, it's not hard to know if you need a policy. Legislation, regulations and standards require it. For example:
- the Children's Act 2014 requires agencies to have a child protection policy.
- the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 requires the development of policies by the Chief Executive
- both the Social Sector Accreditation Standards and Health and Disability Standards require policies and procedures to meet certain standards.
Clients frequently tell us that their main challenge is keeping up with all the legislative and regulatory changes they have to comply with. Compliance isn't just a one-off policy. It means being on top of what policies are required and what policies should cover.
This is a biggie for our online clients. They tell us they have peace of mind now knowing that they no longer have to worry about staying on top of all the regulatory changes. They trust that we will keep them updated and they enjoy being able to input to policy reviews.
More tricky areas
It's often tricky making decisions in situations where there are competing interests. Policies and procedures are especially important here.
A case in point - too little
The case is still being investigated so we don't know all the facts. But the tragic case of the Canterbury University student found in his hostel room several weeks after his death may be an example of not having enough policy and procedure in place.
There were competing interests. The hostel held itself out as offering pastoral care. But as media comment afterwards indicated, the hostel also needed to respect its students' rights to privacy and independence.
Without adequate policy guidance and procedure in this type of situation, staff are left to work out how to balance competing interests by themselves. They may veer too much on the side of privacy and independence. They may think it is unduly intrusive to regularly check on students. They are unlikely to feel empowered to act when and if they have concerns about a student's wellbeing.
The balance can be so hard. It shouldn't rely on ad-hoc decision-making by staff. It should reflect a systematic and thoughtful process of policy making where competing interests are properly considered and weighed.
Not getting the right balance can be devastating. Our hearts go out to the student's whānau for their loss.
Regulating for the balance between interests
The Government is now in the process of regulating for this balance of competing interests for domestic students living in hostels. The Education (Pastoral Care) Amendment Bill is currently before Parliament. If passed, it will require student hostels to adhere to a code of practice for the pastoral care of domestic tertiary students. Hostels will now be required to have policies and processes in place to support student wellbeing.
Adherence to the Education (Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice 2016 is already mandatory for international students.
Too much policy
The worst thing about tricky situations is that often you don't know it's tricky until after something bad happens. When that happens, we often see over-regulation - organisations using their policies and procedures to deal with everything including the trivial stuff.
Or, as in this case perhaps, the Government legislating for something that could have been achieved through good policy and practice. There was a voluntary code of practice that the hostel could have applied but was outdated. But regardless of any regulation, if a hostel says it provides pastoral care, at the very least you'd expect the hostel to have policy and procedure around what pastoral care practically involves eg staff sighting a student, supporting a student to access help with issues.
Getting it right - check things out
So too much policy, too little - it is hard to work out. BUT you can't ignore the fact that you need policies for compliance and for other tricky situations. The stakes are often too high.
Don't worry if it feels hard - you're not alone.
It's why many clients come to us. We have years of experience in accreditation, regulation, policy work and management that we draw on to get the balance right in policies and procedures.
We're here to help. We can help you build a strong policy foundation so that you can feel assured not only about meeting compliance but also that you've covered the tricky stuff. Do we really need a policy sets out some of our key considerations when deciding if a policy is necessary.
We don't want our clients to be looking back and thinking "what if..." or "I wish we'd done that....". We aim for our clients to be looking forward, feeling strong and able to focus on the best quality services for our people and communities.
This post is dedicated to Mason Pendrous and his family.
In the words of the late Dame Whina Cooper:
"Take care of our children. Take care of what they hear, take care of what they see, take care of what they feel. For how the children grow, so will the shape of Aotearoa."