Leadership Tensions: Policies vs. Filters

By title I am the rule maker and the rule keeper.  It’s kind of a given as the Executive Director of an organization.

But guess what?

I hate rules, policies & most procedures. 

Most of the time they are a necessary evil.  On a few occasions they are necessary.  On most occasions they’re evil.

Why do I hate them? 

Rules, policies & most procedures are the easy way out.  They’re a scapegoat for true leadership.

Policies are usually a reactionary fix to an issue you’d rather avoid.  Oftentimes we create a policy when we want to avoid a tough conversation.  Rather than address the specific person and the issue, we create a policy to hide behind.

However there are occasions where some parameters need to be established.  I like to call these filters.

Here’s how I define the difference:

Policies are blankets. They don’t account for nuances or growth.  They leave little room for conversation or flexibility.

Filters are “if this, than that” parameters that lead to sound decision making based upon values or agreed upon standards.  Filters also increase accountability because they force discussion.

At Cross Point we’ve created filters for things like:

  • Continued education and development.  Staff are encouraged to find ways to continue their personal development via books, conferences, etc.  They are given a few guidelines and budgets, but each staff person and their manager determine the best course of learning for them each year.
  • Sunday staff schedules.  Based upon their role and responsibility we determine their work schedule for Sunday.  Some staff have greater responsibilities than others for Sunday services and we adjust their work week to make the best use of their time and contribution.

Before you implement policies, consider:

  • Is this a black and white issue that will not require any exceptions?
  • Is this policy likely to be broken often because, while it controls a bad thing, it inhibits another good thing?
  • Am I creating a policy because it will keep me from having tough conversations?

When policies are necessary:

  • When the policy is necessary to be compliant with a power higher than you, i.e. the law.  Implement policy when it’s necessary to make sure your team understands and is compliant with the law.  For example we have policies for expense report filing, “duty to report” circumstances and safety.
  • When you face a repeated issue that doesn’t have many variables.   We have a vacation policy so that we are consistent with each staff member and accountable to those who fund our salaries through their giving.

How are you managing the tension of policies vs. filters? 


** Here is another post I wrote on this topic.

  • David Grant

    Hey Jenni,

    For a while our only policy at Irving Bible Church was this, “we have no policies”. 

    That didn’t work very well.  We don’t mind the mess or tough conversations, but it seemed we were having the same discussions over and over again.

    Thank you for your perspective.  As we move towards balance and establishing guidelines your advice is good for us to hear.

    I hope you’re doing swell!

  • Randy Ongie

    Great approach Jenni! Coach K @ Duke says people make policies when they don’t want to make decisions.

  • http://www.margaretfeinberg.com/ Margaret

    great way to distinguish between the two–hadn’t given much thought in there being a difference before….but now I’ll have to noodle on it!