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Dotting Your I’s

In the dynamic landscape of small business, where agility and adaptability are prized virtues, implementing policies might seem counterintuitive to some entrepreneurs. However, far from stifling creativity or hindering flexibility, well-crafted policies are the bedrock upon which successful enterprises are built. From promoting a positive work culture to mitigating risks and ensuring compliance, let’s look at just a few primary reasons policies are indispensable for small businesses.

1. Clarity and Consistency

Whether outlining acceptable workplace conduct, defining job responsibilities or specifying procedures for requesting time off, documented policies ensure everyone is on the same page. Policies provide clear guidelines and expectations for employees. They not only minimize misunderstandings but also promote a sense of fairness and transparency.

2. Employee Empowerment and Engagement

When employees know what is expected of them and understand the rules and procedures governing their work, they feel empowered to make decisions and take initiative. Policies should not be static but a living, breathing and ever-evolving document. Being sure to involve your employees in the policy-making process will help foster a sense of ownership and engagement as they contribute to shaping the workplace culture and practices.

3. Legal Protection and Liability Reduction

In an increasingly litigious society, small businesses are increasingly vulnerable to legal challenges and disputes arising from various sources, including employees, customers and competitors. Policies can help protect the business from legal liabilities by demonstrating compliance with relevant laws and regulations or, as importantly, consistency in handling situations that arise in the workplace. In a dispute or litigation, documented policies can serve as evidence of the business’s commitment to ethical conduct and due diligence.

Where to Start

Policies are not just bureaucratic red tape or arbitrary rules imposed from above; they are essential tools for fostering a thriving and sustainable small business. The question for many small businesses is: “That is great, but where do I start?” So, let’s look at a few basic policies that offer a starting point for a business.

1. Employee Handbook

While this is not a policy but a collection of policies, it is probably the most critical document for a business, even if you only have a handful of employees. It serves as a guide, outlining basic expectations, procedures and protocols for employers and employees. Key policies should include codes of conduct, anti-discrimination policies, employee benefits, leave policies and disciplinary procedures.

2. Social Media

Social media is now vital to the success of a business, and it’s essential to establish clear guidelines for its use. Social media policies should outline acceptable usage, confidentiality requirements and guidelines for representing the company online, both professionally and personally. The policy should relate to your code of conduct by including language outlining the consequences of an employee posting something on social media that is damaging to your business or your business’s reputation. We have all seen in the news stories of rogue company employees posting unprofessional or detrimental content to the company’s social media and the damage it causes. It is common for employees to have business connections on their personal accounts. What damage can be done to your business by an employee posting controversial or derogatory content and one of your customers seeing it?

3. Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) policies protect brand identity, innovative products or services and confidential information. Consider using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) when it comes to customer lists and contracts, especially in the sales world. Policies that outline who owns IP created by employees, especially IP created during company time or with company resources, are essential for protecting the future of your business.

The Next Steps

The most vital part of creating and implementing policies within your business is adherence to those policies. Having a policy and not following it is worse than not having one. Consistency within the application of policies is what will protect your business. Do not think of policies as barriers to business or something only large corporations need. Investing time and effort in developing and implementing effective policies is prudent and essential for small businesses aiming to achieve long-term success and resilience in an ever-changing environment.

Truett Graham Ricks

Truett Graham Ricks is a business consultant and author who has spent the past 15 years working across the public and private sectors. He has served as an advisor on policy creation within the Fortune 500 and authored policies for governmental organizations. Graham specializes in helping organizations improve their workflows and increase employee engagement through analyzing their policies and procedures.