In today’s fast-changing world, the traditional top-down approach to policymaking has proven ineffective and is leaving in its wake great compliance issues, limited benefits and dissatisfied employees.
In this context, human-centered internal policies can be the real way forward for policies and procedures that are followed by people and produce the expected benefits.
I call the policies designed through a human-centered approach People Friendly Policies.
When we provide context and the reason for issuing policies, focus on the needs and pain points of the users and stakeholders and their journey, we create simple and accessible policies. We then have People Friendly Policies.
In this blog, I’ll show what a People Friendly Policy looks like. I’ll use the example of a Travel Policy as in my opinion they’re the least people-friendly policies!
People Friendly Policy: the importance of context for aware users
One of the main pitfalls of traditional policymaking I’ve identified is the lack of context. The reasons behind a new policy, its goals and objectives are seldom explained to those who need to comply with it. This leaves a huge awareness gap, which can eventually leave room for non-compliant behaviors and, ultimately, to the company not reaping the expected benefits.
Let’s start by looking at a traditional travel policy that would start with something like this:
“This policy applies to all the business trips of company XYZ with effective date dd/mm/yy. All employees have to comply. This issue includes changes to the health & safety provisions due to Covid-19 pandemics and changes into the hotel program.”
No context for the policy is provided. There’s just a demand to people to comply!
A People Friendly Policy would look something like the following:
“Dear colleague, here below you’ll find the guidelines that the Travel Team has prepared so that you can arrange your business trips effectively and at the best costs.
We know how stressful it is to organize a business trip and the toll on your personal life that business trips take. That’s why the Travel Team has put together a Travel Program that we hope will make it easier for you.
In particular, please, consider that the Partners participating in the program have been selected thanks to their economic effort and because they share our company’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and ethical purchasing.
Please, consider that this issue of the Travel Policy considers the complex situation around the Covid-19 pandemic. We invite you to look carefully to all the changes that we have implemented to keep your business trips as safe as possible.”
Can you spot the differences?
To start, context is provided: the reasons for choosing the program partners for example, and some warning related to important changes (covid-19 related). The employee has an immediate view of the key information on the policy.
The second big difference lies in the language and tone of voice. They’re both warm and try to create a connection to the Travelers.
The opening “dear colleague” aims at bridging the distance between those who make the policy and those who need to comply with it. There’s also the acknowledgement of how difficult it is to organize and trip (aiming to create a connection with the reader).
Context and language are then the first elements characterizing human-centered internal policies. Let’s look further!
People Friendly Policy: soft-nudging and free choice for less resistance
I’ve identified the need for self-determination as one of the success factors of human-centered internal policies. I’ve, in fact, pointed out how people desire to have a sense of free will and how mandating action or behavior immediately creates some resistance.
To explain this point, let’s analyze another interesting part of a Travel Policy: booking a trip.
In this respect, a traditional policy would read:
“All bookings need to be done through the appointed Travel Management Company. Trips booked outside the TMC cannot be expensed”.
And a People Friendly Policy, what does that look like?
“The Travel Team has appointed a Travel Management Company to manage all the bookings for your business trips.
You’ll find that booking through the appointed TMC has a lot of benefits for you and the company:
- When something happens while travelling, it can be scary! You might be in a foreign country, with a language you might not speak and you don’t know what to do! The TMC is there to help you in these situations. They know where you are and, can reach you in case of need or emergency;
- The TMC enjoys a privileged relationship with the main suppliers. It makes it easier to solve any emerging issue;
- Did you miss your flight? Have problems with your hotel? We got you covered. The TMC runs a 24/7 emergency service and can book an alternative flight or find another hotel just by calling them;
- Do you have any specific travel request? The TMC can provide the best travel advice and the most up-to-date information.
Please, note that services booked outside the preferred channels might not be handled by the TMC (depending on rate conditions) and might incur specific audit.”
I think here the differences between traditional policies and human-centered internal policies are clear. The human-centered policy emphasizes the benefits for the Traveler to go through the appointed TMC, stressing what the TMC can do that the Traveler cannot do alone. It also highlights some of the advantages the Traveler might not even be aware of (i.e. something happens, and we can help you!) that are key elements of the company Travel Program.
Also, in this case, language plays an important role.
Language has always been a great obstacle between policymakers and policy users (see The Babel Tower – link a blog Amsterdam). The use of “plain English” instead of the typical corporate jargon is to close the gap between those who organize the Travel Program and those who have to use it. No paternalism, no belittling. Travelers are acknowledged as being adult people who can make a choice. An important step forward!
Another important element has been added to the picture of what human-centered internal policies are: clearly explaining the users’ benefits.
But there’s more. Keep on reading!
People Friendly Policy: simple guidelines and processes to face the business challenges
Another important aspect of traditional policies is policy complexity.
To explain this, let’s look at another part of the Travel Policy: approvals!
A traditional policy would say:
“Each trip needs to be approved by the Traveler’s boss.”
“Employees need to choose from the list of hotels published on the website. Exceptions need to be approved by the VP of…”
Outdated policies, an abundance of controls, approvals, exceptions’ approval are well known, and they’re some of those elements that can make the booking process a real nightmare!
Further to that, also, the criteria for choosing the partner supplier are not usually explained. This leaves Travelers with many doubts and opens up the possibility of misunderstandings and non-compliance.
On the other hand, a People Friendly Policy would read:
“The Travel Team has put together a list of preferred hotels, accurately chosen for their quality, position, the quality of services they provide and their price.
Please, note that we’re partnering with hotel chains/independent hotels, which can ensure the kind of safe environment we want for our Travelers in this troubling moment.
For your own safety, we recommend booking one of the hotels on our list.
If you’re considering booking outside the preferred hotel list, please note that the rates in our list include breakfast; they allow you to change your reservation at any time, they include late check-out, free wi-fi and free parking for your car. Are you sure the rate on the web has the same benefits?
Are you participating in an event? You can go to the hotel where the event occurs, even if it’s not on the list. Be sure to mention “event: name event” when making the reservation.
Can you not find the hotel you’re looking for? Call the TMC agents to get the best advice!
Let’s start with simplicity. The absence of an approval process, but just the need of mentioning in the reservation of the event name, is an example of this. Here, the overarching meaning is that the corporate Traveler can decide what is right or what is not right. A Traveler is a person with a perfectly functioning brain. Why should they not make the right choice? In this respect, it’s quite well known Netflix’s Travel Policy which is 5 words long only: “Act in Netflix’s best interest.
Moreover, the positive message, explaining why the hotel is included in the list and what it’s included in the rates provides the right context where the person can have all the information they need to make an informed choice. Here the objective is to nudge the Traveler’s behavior towards what the Travel Team has pre-arranged as fitting some criteria while leaving some degree of flexibility.
Soft-nudging and simplicity: what more should we expect from human-centered internal polices? Let’s find out!
People Friendly Policy: direct connection with the users and their needs
To close, I’d like to focus on one part of the policy that’s usually quite lacking in most organizations. I’m talking about the assessment of the policy itself. Is it producing the planned benefits? How are users reacting to this? Do they get to do what they need to do? Rarely, organizations asked themselves and their users these questions!
Traditional policies would be something like:
“For any complains, please, send an email to email@example.com.”
Human-centered internal policies would say:
“Thank you for supporting the Corporate Travel Program.
Your contribution is important to improve it and make your business trips easier and safer.
Let us know your feedback at any time by answering the survey, sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, like and comment on the Travel Program page on the intranet.”
A People Friendly Policy is a policy driven by the needs of the people who will use them. To make sure the policy addresses these needs, the policy owner must be clear about what these needs are, and if the policy is fulfilling them or is simply in their way. That’s why it’s important always to know what the users say and think through a structured feedback process.
In a few words, policymakers should bring inside the corporate world what it’s quite common in the outside consumer world: customer feedback!
It’s not over. There’s still something to add to the picture of human-centered internal policies.
People Friendly Policy: more than a policy!
Besides the language and the content, other elements set People Friendly Policies apart from traditional policies.
First of all, the process. A People Friendly Policy is the result of a Human-centered Design process where users and all the major stakeholders are involved since the beginning in a research process aiming at understanding user’s (and stakeholders) needs and pain points to move to structured ideation to figure out ways to address those needs and pain to close with prototyping and testing, to gather feedback from the users and further improve the solution. I call this People Friendly Process. And People Friendly Policies is a manifestation of this approach
Second, People Friendly Policies, designed by people for people, come to life through different media. It’s not just a policy, but it can come in the form of videos, tutorials, infographics, periodical emails etc. Policies are made available in ways that can be understood by people with different (learning) preferences.
Last but not least the policy access. Here the objective is to reach all the people who need the policy when they need it. Currently, many policies are kept in the most remote corner of the company intranet.
People Friendly Policies are accessible through different platforms and tools to ensure everybody can check them out easily.
People Friendly Policy: where to start?
The human-centred approach to internal policies provides a strong foundation for policies and procedures that are followed by people and produce the expected benefits.
But where to start? My personal recommendation is to start with an inventory of all the organisation’s policies and to assess with the support of a multifunctional team if they provide the expected benefits. I’d start then addressing, changing and eliminating those that are not any more useful and/or don’t fit the business environment.
Policies are one of the elements strongly contributing to an organisation’s culture, so it’s of capital importance that the overall policies framework is consistent with the way leaders want an organization to work.
Are you ready to step up the way you work on internal policies? Go People Friendly Policy!!
If you want to learn more about using human-centered design for business policy creation also look at:
Policies by design – 5 steps to improve your internal policies management