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Simple differences may hide volumes

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

Management is often a game of differentiating between the mundane and the critical.

Like many things involving humans, management often includes a lot of seemingly similar demands that turn out to be very different. One of the most important can involve the difference between “practice” and “policy.” Legally and otherwise, there’s a significant distinction.

The lowest level of organizational behavior is a business practice. And, while business practices are varied in terms of significance, a practice holds no legal accountability. Policy does.

Employees cannot be legally held accountable to follow practices, but they definitely can be held accountable to follow policies.

In terms of content, the two are similar. A policy is simply a practice that has been formally presented as an expectation of management. But that formal “announcement” makes a world of difference. Policies are a legally binding way of saying, “This is what we expect of you and how we expect you to operate while at work.”

Although writing policies initially requires some effort, practices should be formalized as policy whenever possible. At a minimum, every organization that has employees should have an employee policy and procedure manual. This manual provides clarity regarding regular business activities.

Email is a good example. A practice might be to check email on an intermittent basis. A policy, however, might be: “Email in our organization is not private and should be restricted to business communication. We reserve the right to monitor email if we consider it appropriate to do so.”

Again, a policy is a practice that has been thought through and then formalized. This examination and review can itself be important. Analyzing a practice while putting it in writing as policy may reveal inconsistencies and vagueness. Management will also be reminded that it has to follow its policies. If the policies are not consistently applied, an issue of favoritism or discrimination can be created.

Converting practices to policies may at first seem rigid. But the more that management systematizes its behaviors and expectations, the more predictability and comfort is provided to employees. If there are no systems in place, management and employees must rely on mood and attitude. Just what you don’t want when a problem arises.

If good people are using good systems, then the results will always be good. If good people are using mediocre systems, or mediocre people are using good systems, there may be frustrations, but results will still usually be good. However, if mediocre people are using mediocre systems, the results will usually be mediocre or worse.

Mediocre people using exceptional systems can produce exceptional results. Imagine what good people using exceptional systems can produce. Actually, don’t imagine it—create it yourself. Start by developing, clarifying, disseminating, and documenting business policy.

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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