Building Effective Policies: Execution

When implementing policies, keep them simple and apply them in a fair manner which maximizes your desired impact.

When implementing policies, you should apply them in a fair manner that maximizes their desired impact. Keep it simple.

CS1: One of the biggest challenges I ran into when I first took over the team was the question of how to enforce and judge mandatory attendance. Our low attendance at practice and tournaments was affecting our competitive preparedness as well as general morale. Whenever someone showed up late or didn’t show up, they always had a plausible sounding excuse. I spent a lot of time trying to determine in one off scenarios which excuses were valid. This lead to an attendance policy that was inconsistent. I eventually developed a simple system that was fair to all. I called it the 2+2 rule. Each member had to attend two tournaments and could miss two practices a semester. This rule made it easy to track which members were in good standing and when I needed to address a certain member’s behavior.

When designing a policy, make your desired actions passive and your undesired actions active.
This is a nuanced concept that plays a vital role in your understanding of human psychology. In general, the more investment you ask out of people to perform an action, the fewer people will perform that action. Let’s examine a hypothetical situation. Say that you went to a website that told you to click a button and you would receive $10,000. Would you press it? Likely, most of you would. Now, let’s say that the site says you have to go to your neighbor’s house before you can press the button. Unless you hate your neighbor, most of you would probably make the trek. Now let’s say the website wants you first to go to the Arctic, take all your clothes off, and defeat a polar bear in hand to claw combat. In this situation, I imagine that whoever is offering the money will be in a strong position to keep it.
This example is a bit of an exaggeration but demonstrates the point that I want to make. The more effort it takes for a person to do something, the less compliance you will receive. On the other hand, passive actions do not require people to change their behavior. For instance, if you sign up to be charged monthly for an online music program, you don’t need to do anything and the money will be taken from your account every month. In contrast, an active action would be when you first signed up for the music program. You had to input you name, your credit card information (…your parents’ credit card information), etc. Those are considered active actions. There’s a reason why companies try to streamline the sign-up process and automate the payment process, it allows for the steadiest flow of profits. Similarly, as student leaders, we are chasing profits, though largely of a different kind. We want our members to take or not take certain actions. Therefore, you need to design your systems to maximize the actions you want while minimizing the actions you don’t want.
CS1: The first two years that I was president, I had people sign up for tournaments either by filling out a form or telling me in person. I found that attendance at tournaments started out high when excitement about the team was abounding and then dwindled significantly as the year went on. In addition, I would have to actively seek out members to see if they would attend a certain tournament which took significant effort. So, in my third year as president, I instituted a new system where everyone on the team would be signed up for a tournament and they had to opt out in order to avoid attending. I found that my tournament participation rate increased dramatically and while people would still drop out with increased frequency as the year progressed, the drop off was not as significant as before. Additionally, the energy that it took me to track people down could now be used for other tasks.
: Every Strategy has its Limits
While it may be tempting to make all desired actions passive within your organization, realize that the technique has its limits. A passive rule that’s too broad risks being ignored, and team members are not keen on being held responsible for things they didn’t do. While the initiative I put into place to automate tournament sign-up was successful in getting more people to attend tournaments, more people would also forget about tournaments that they were automatically signed up for. This caused increased violations of rules regarding tournament drop fees for opting out of tournaments at the last minute, resulting in a temporary rise in complaints. Once members were used to the rule, the complaints died down. This is another important point. There’s always going to be a transition period between policy implementation and compliance. If a policy is not going well, feel free to revisit your assumptions, but don’t abandon a policy just because it’s taking time for people to get accustomed to it.
Once you’ve created your policies, the last step is to communicate it to the team. Communications should ideally be conducted in person and should explain the policy, the consequences of the policy, the reason the policy came into being, and various hypothetical situations that violate or do not violate the policy. Ensure that everyone understands your new or changed policy. Have members explain their understanding to ensure that you’ve communicated effectively. If a certain policy has an ongoing relevance (like the automated tournament sign-up I explained above), it’s probably a good idea to communicate the policy in an ongoing manner. It’s often easier to remind members what the policy is as opposed to applying punishments to violations.

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