How to make policies an atomic habit in your organisation

Listening to Brenee Brown’s interview with James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, I was reminded about the necessity for policies to be an atomic habit in health, social and education services.

Goals are the results we want. Policies and procedures provide a system to get there. But too often policies and procedures are relegated to compliance. We forget their relevance to our goals. So how can we keep reminding ourselves?

Better still how we can make referring to policies and procedures an organisational atomic habit?

4 criteria for an atomic habit

James Clear proposes four criteria for building a new habit. These can be used to help build a policy-use habit in your organisation.

The four criteria are that the habit is “obvious”, “easy,” “attractive” and “satisfying.”

Make it obvious

Stone composition on the beach.

If you want people to do something, they’re more likely to do it if it’s there for them – they see it, remember it etc. Conversely, out of sight, out of mind.

Policies are often not “top of mind” when they should be in a organisation and that can reflect that they are buried in a mass of other organisational files and business.  It seems easier, “more obvious” in this context to ask your manager about what to do rather than refer to the relevant policy.

To make using organisational policies an obvious choice for staff, the organisation at all levels needs to promote and actively encourage its member to use the policies:

  • when staff come to you with questions, refer them to the policies
  • each time policies are reviewed and updated and when relevant to discussion go through them with your team.

Make your policies and procedures visible to staff so they are reminded of them. For example, in the Policy Place online service, all the policies and procedures are obvious as a lefthand menu. By clicking on a policy category, staff can view relevant policies.

Make it attractive

checking her home finances online

Policies rarely conjure an attractive picture. They’re more likely to be associated with dusty old manuals and text-heavy documents/

But at the Policy Place, we show it can be done. Policies can be attractive. Our members’ policies carry their own branding. We include pictures and youtube links to videos and use hyperlinks and pages to reduce text.

We want people to use the polices so let’s make them as attractive as possible.

Make it easy

Organisational policies should help your agency give practical effect to and comply with legislative and regulatory requirements. They should make things easier.

But the challenge with policies is that it’s not just a one-off exercise. You have to keep them up-to-date with law and regulatory changes etc and review them regularly to keep in line with practice.  This can be hard when you have many other operational priorities.

But if policies aren’t kept updated, it becomes hard for staff to trust that they provide correct and reliable guidance. At the Policy Place we also see policies that have become complex and confusing because people have added to them in a hurry to address an issue without considering the ramifications for other policies.

Make it satisfying

For staff to become habitual policy users, they need to derive some benefit from using policies. If policies are simple and provide clear guidance without undue restriction then staff will benefit from using them. They will have the reward of an answer to their question in the immediate sense. Longer-term, as they get used to referring to policies, they will feel safer and more confident in their identity as practitioners.

At the PolicyPlace we’re always dealing with busy people, who often feel overwhelmed by the job of having to do and updated policies. We understand and want to help. That’s why we have our online policy system.

Contact us to join our online system. You will get your policies online. Even better, we keep the policies reviewed and updated.