The Reason Many Policies are Written

Many policies are written because someone didn’t want to solve a problem.

In her book “Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands”, Nancy Ortberg talks about the need to differentiate between “a tension to be managed and a problem to be solved“. One example for me is the constant tension between the administration/money side of ministry and the discipleship/hands on side of ministry. As pastor, I’m always going to have to balance tension between our business administrator working to conserve cash and our youth pastor finding legitimate ministry needs in which to spend it, for example. That’s a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved. On the other hand, an employee who is taking advantage of a more casual organizational structure, which I typically prefer…that’s a problem to be solved. Quickly. A system, which is not working, causing more harm than good to the organization…problem to be solved. Now.

Most of the time, however, in my experience, churches are notorious for creating a new policy to attempt to manage the problem rather than doing the difficult work of solving it. Solving the problem often involves getting personal with people. It involves challenging people. It involves change. It involves holding people accountable to a higher standard. That’s messy. It’s never fun. Most churches like neat, clean and seemingly easy. (Just being honest.)

Using my illustration above, if the youth pastor has a perceived spending problem, rather than addressing the problem with him directly, many times a policy is created to “solve” the problem and curtail spending. Every other staff member may be performing satisfactorily, but the policy controls everyone. Plus, without wise counsel, the youth pastor never learns principles of healthy budgeting or how to manage cash flow, for example, and it continues to impact his ministry for years to come. Problem not solved.

Policies are easy. They are a piece of paper. They may involve some discussion, perhaps a committee meeting (maybe even a tense committee meeting), maybe even a church vote, but they seldom specifically address the people who are causing the problem in the first place. They make people feel better about the problem, but they almost never solve real problems. In fact, they usually only create more problems…which later need to be solved!

For more of my thoughts on policies, see THIS POST. I realize this problem is not limited to churches. Even the best organizations and corporations struggle to address problems as needed.

My advice:

Manage the tensions, but solve the problems.

Do the hard work. It’s what leaders are supposed to do. Not always easiest. Always best.

Have you seen churches (or organizations) try to manage a problem that needed to be solved?

Bonus points if you give me an example.

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22 thoughts on “The Reason Many Policies are Written

  1. This is good stuff. I have a degree in public administration and I work in a large State law enforcement agency with tons of policy. am going to give this to our Captain.

  2. Love the post, well written and well balanced. I would add a little more to it… When we create policies to solve individual people problems, they are always communicated over email to everyone because we also don't like confrontation.

    Then because we don't like the confrontation, we use the dump truck approach when the new policy is abused (which of course it will be because we didn't do a face to face with the problem.) We let the one person the policy was written for, keep doing what they are doing without confrontation then after a period of time we back up the truck and dump on them all at once.

  3. I work in an organization with a high degree of turn-over, and seasonal employees who come from a wide variety of backgrounds. When I started working here a number of years back, we literally had NO policies. Not a single one. This created financial instability and a whole collection of disgruntled, confused, over-worked, burnt-out employees. We've found that we need to have both one-on-one "solve the problem" discussions, and creation of policy to keep ourselves from solving the same problem over and over and over again. I strongly believe there is room for both.

    Having a policy doesn't mean you don't address issues with people personally – it means giving you a framework in which to discuss those issues. It lays out that "higher standard" you want people to adhere to.

    I completely agree that you cannot simply "fix" a problem by putting in a policy. This doesn't, however, mean there isn't room for policy at all.

    I think your thoughts on why you hate policies were good – but I still don't think its a reason to ditch them completely. For example, my office has a policy that any expenditures over a certain dollar amount must be run by the COO & CEO. It gives us a way to controlling our spending, and helps our employees reason through why they need something they'd like to spend the funds on. Does it take away the freedom to purchase whatever we think we need – sure does. Is that a bad thing? I don't think so, and I don't think our financial supporters think so either.

    We've put in policies that keep one employee from abusing another – like what time you can register for check in at events. Before this policy, we had employees sleeping on the floor of the office until 1 am, waiting for someone to register. Now, a late registration simply needs to make arrangements to check in late, or to find lodging until the office opens. Simply having a conversation with this type of person didn't seem to fix the problem of not respecting another employee.

    I don't think all policies should be discounted. I think that with the right attitude behind them – like protecting financial integrity or being good stewards of our human resources – there is a place for them.

  4. I agree! Perspective is key! Perspective is the answer to understanding what causes the tension. Yes, I have lived it! I was a church financial admin secretary for years. I saw how miraculous it was, how God provided in His 29/59 kind of way each week. When you experience keeping the books at the church and you see the Provisional Hand of God, you want to protect that provision with great (tightwad) stewardship, it is only natural. LOL! NOT! I watched the finance committee meet and take papers in their hand that represented ministry and check it no because of lack of perspective. But, they did not experienced the other perspective of the miracles that happen daily in the discipleship area. A pastor once made us “shadow” each other for a week. One Admin & One Pastor paired up and we watched and lived in each others “worlds”. I gained a whole new perspective! We were no longer two silos containing our own corn to feed our “ministry”, we were one. I have learned the problem with perspective is churches where their ministries become individual silos standing on their own, not really a good atmosphere for enlarging perspectives when the Pastor’s Lay Council Board and the Staff have not walked in each others shoes.
    Twitter: kmac4him

  5. Yes, I see it first hand daily. Where I work we are not big enough (number wise of employees) to efficiently handle the orders….busy good problem to have (thankfully)….but we just stress out, get it done and move to the next. We need structure (a solving of the problem) rather than just getting through.

    Name of company not disclosed to protect the stressed out and strung along…: )