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Old policies can be worse than no policies

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

Office managers have a great deal of work that is unexciting at best. Topping this list may be updating policies.

But with recent court rulings, new regulations, and other changes, it’s more than likely that your policies need a bit of updating. It’s a mistake to assume that you can “just get by.”

One error that many make is confusing “policy” and “practice.” All organizations have both, but when it comes to getting things done and being held accountable, policy trumps practice every time. Practices might be defined as habits, or informal ways of doing things. Many are very helpful and you can never do without them. In many cases, they are in fact derived from policy, at least to some extent.

This isn’t new, but many overlook a critical element: practice has no legal standing. If you need to insist that a staff member do something a certain way, practice won’t cut it. And if you and the office run afoul of state or federal regulation, are sued, or face another dire threat, practice won’t help.

This underscores why updating policy is critical, even if it’s not much fun. Telling a staff member to start doing “B” before “A” will likely get the results you want and it doesn’t require a ton of paperwork. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to stand up to serious question, or in court. And if you’ve not updated your policies in several years, you’re all but guaranteed to have some seriously dated directives.

Changing policy doesn’t have to be a nightmare, however. One of the most important suggestions is to address the need for policy change in segments. Don’t try to tackle the entire manual at once. Instead, schedule examination and change in increments.

The question here becomes, “What do I start with?” A good trick is to keep a log of policy questions as they arise, and match those to a calendar. Once a month, or at another practical interval, address the policy issues that seem most important. That may sound obvious, but because policy issues seem such a “back burner” priority, it’s easy to push them off until a crisis arises. Set a schedule to review your policies and, using your log of policy questions, prioritize those that need addressing.

If you haven’t already, consider using an online or intranet technique for distributing updates. Although the initial setup might be greater, posting updates online allows staff to access information that is up to date and reflects your current standards. Going digital will also free you from some of the paper shuffling routine. You’ll need to verify that each staff member received the information, but a digital signature or checkbox will suffice.

Be creative with how you present material. Clearly, you don’t have half a day to go over policy updates with staff at the drop of a hat. But you do need to ensure that your staff understands any change to policy and procedure. “Lunch and learn” events, internal memos or even office blog posts can help.

At every step, good managers need to take a mental step back and look for common pitfalls. Are there practices that aren’t really in a policy? Are there practices that conflict with new laws and regulations?

Policies are rarely fun, but they are absolutely necessary. In today’s world, operating with a policy that inadequately addresses issues such as sexual harassment, bullying or even a fundamental workplace procedure is asking for trouble.

Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC is President/Partner of Labor Management Advisory Group, Inc. and HR Solutions: On-Call, both based in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit or call (913) 927-0229.

The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager









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