The policies or rules that you implement in your organization will influence the culture of your group and the actions of your members. A well structured and well implemented set of policies will help you track which members are in good standing and assist with the smooth flow of daily operations. A poorly structured and poorly implemented set of policies will create discontent among your members and will make your daily operations difficult if not impossible.
Let’s begin by outlining exactly what makes a good policy:
Policies should be clear and succinct – Your team members need to understand what is required to follow the policy. Policies should not be marred by overly complex language or endless contingencies. Your members should understand both the punishments for violating policy and rewards, if relevant, for following policy.
Pollicies should be communicated and widely available – All policies should be explained during your initiation/orientation. They should also be in a location that’s easily accessible. This should be your first line of defense against a plea to ignorance.
Policies should be re-evaluated at least once a year – The effectiveness and relevancy of policies may change as your team evolves and you get new members. You should aim to re-evaluate your current policies and add or take away policies at least once a year, preferably at the beginning of the academic year. More on that below.
CS1: We once had an overzealous board member who was proficient at excel create an elaborate system of rules that tracked violations of policies by half points. We tested the system for a period. Once we realized that no one, including the creator, understood the rules, we quickly reverted to our old policies. Looking back, we should had many more review cycles before we tried to implement the system. Do not be swayed by fancy, complex, and elaborate systems. Keeping it simple is the key.
Incentives influence actions. Therefore, your first step is to assess what actions you want people to take. Additionally, what actions do you want people to avoid? How will this action or inaction assist with the smooth operation of your team? Take this example of an incentive influencing action:
There are two classes. In one class, the instructor states that 30% of the final grade will be based on participation. In the second class, the instructor states that a student’s entire grade will be determined by three exams. Which class do you think will have the higher rate of participation? Obviously, the former.
So, identify the goals you want to achieve with your policies and think about how to structure them to match those goals. What do you want people to do or not do in terms of attendance, punctuality, participation, fund-raising, etc? The fewer rules it takes to achieve your desired outcome, the better.
Lastly, consider the amount of commitment that your rule will require. The more effort it takes to comply with a rule, the less compliance you will receive. Too much effort over a long period of time can harm morale and decrease your membership.
Now that you’ve identified your desired outcomes, it’s time to think through your rewards and punishments. As a general rule, you’ll want to ensure that your sticks and carrots match up with the actions that you want taken or not taken. For instance, if someone has done some research for you that’s a part of their job description, a simple thank you may be enough. If someone has missed a meeting, deducting a small amount of points or simply asking them to be on time in the future will be enough. You can scale up or down from there as you see fit. You will run into issues when your incentives don’t match your desired actions. Understand the impact of a policy that’s too generous or stringent, and you’ll be able to tailor your changes from there. Test your policy, and if you experience pushback in the forms below, adapt. There are four major scenarios:
A small transgression with a large punishment.
A large transgression with a small punishment.
A small show of dedication with a large reward.
A large show of dedication with a small reward.