Regardless of whether it is a country or a commercial organisation, there are so many good policy initiatives that lie buried within the confines of a file cover, those that may not have been dusted, since its filing.
Policy is a set of objectives with a broadly defined stated course of action to meet those objectives. Policies cannot be verbal. These have to be reduced in writing. It is not to suggest that policies must be chiseled upon tablets of stone for permanence, the document must have a defined validity date, post which, it must pass the test of updation and validation, as a consequence of any emerging business challenges or realities.
Policies are framed to suit the objective, they can be drawn with so many caveats and conditions that it can be made practically impossible to implement. It is, in the government, a bureaucratic expertise to get policies made for files only; they are meant to be flaunted and not intended for usage.
The policy process is usually conceptualised as sequential parts or stages. “These are problem emergence, agenda setting, consideration of policy options, decision making, implementation and evaluation “(Jordan and Adelle).
In commercial organisations, policies are made , to meet mandatory/statutory regulatory conditions , here again, if the intent is not to carry them out, then these lie in the vaults of the CEO or the chairman.
I recall, being told more out of corporate humour than any serious disclosure, by a very senior executive of a large commercial organisation, that he was tasked to prepare a comprehensive human resources policy, which was meant to be all inclusive; from hiring process/procedures to dismissal and termination; from stating the various designations on the organisation chart to the hiring process of the CEO; from indicating initial emoluments to the promotion policy, salary packages of senior management and from giving details of the various leaves , covering sick to privilege leave conditions. With these parameters laid out in a very serious tone, he (the executive) alongside his team, laboriously prepared the necessary document. This was neatly done, with colour slides and configurations of all the variable elements, inclusive of several charts, was placed in an equally impressive folder.
This exquisitely prepared policy went through the entire gamut (again a policy for approving policies was followed) of the defined procedure, from the management committee, to the sub-committee of the board, and finally the board itself. The policy was appreciated for its contents, across these levels -- and ultimately was “approved”, with no conditions, because enough caveats were already in- built into the policy.
Once it appeared, the chairperson called the HR - head and said, please keep this safe, and make sure, that the existence of this policy is not made public or even within the organisation. Baffled and stumped, the HR- head asked, with a mouth open as a shocked goldfish, “but, sir, isn’t this meant for staff to know?” He (chairman) without blinking said, “If the facilities are known to all, what will happen to the power of discretion that I enjoy. You want me to lose control”. This case is a perfect example of a workable policy, only to be used, when required or desired by few. Such are meant to please the regulators and auditors.
Policies at the government level are also prepared for the same reasons. They reflect the whims and dictates of the politicians. Their objectives can range from full implementation, partial implementation or no implementation at all governmental policies can also be time bound; made for a specific time; once accomplished or done, the policy document ceases to be a live instrument of governance.
Our first few Five years Plans were so well architectured, that we had become the promising and rising stars of the sub-continent. It is believed that the South Koreans liked our economic policy to an extent that they made a copy of it; they implemented our policy, and we filed it … the consequences are before us, South Korea is part of OECD, and we are at the doorstep with a bowl of IMF and other friendly countries. (Since school days, I have heard this and have believed it to be true. If it is a classic flight of imagination, then it must be the product of an extremely creative mind). Five year Plans preambles often remind me of Captain Kirk (William Shatner), of the starship named , Enterprise, of Star Trek fame, The famous TV show’s opening lines …”Its five year mission … to boldly go where no man has gone before”. Just like the Enterprise, the direction and setting of a course of action, that is to be pursued by any government or organisation is a matter of policy making. It has to be real and not fiction.
Persuasive follow up on the implementation is as critical as framing the policy itself. If the relevant stakeholders are not on board, the policy will remain perpetually in a state of inertia. Sometimes, political governments design their policies with the sole objective of keeping it in the limbo of fading memories, they put such policies into dormancy, by clicking upon them the “sleep mode”. “No action” is also a policy or it could be a policy statement. “Absolutely Not” is a two-word policy document. It follows that policies do not have to be multi chapter documents, it can be stated within the principle of “less said, the better”. Policies that are meant to stir men’s blood, are defanged by caveats, provisos, amendments, etc. Policy making at the government level and in business too, is more often than not, done by the unfit and the unwilling.
As against time bound policies, there are policy documents that have perpetuity built in them. A constitution of a country or the board, is a sacred and sacrosanct document, containing policies and many procedures; for amending its stipulations, requires de-Jure process of approval. Only in banana republics, the parliament passes off all amendments without debate or deliberation. The constitution is a life-long document, which by way of amendments, done legally or otherwise too, has the potential to be mauled to such a degree, that it can cease to be anywhere closer to its original form or substance. In the corporate sector, the attitude to do so is not very different.
Frequently changing the policy document contributes significantly to the low level of implementation. Policies that are popular today, at the country or entity level, can, with the change of guard, become redundant. Every new entrant into an office desires to have a policy re-set, even if there is no compelling reason to do so, but for the tickling of the ego; in doing so there are no cogent reasons, usually it is whimsical, hence can be noble or ignoble objectives, which in turn is dependent upon who is the person in command. This person has the most responsibility to ensure compliance for full implementation.
For several decades our government policies were enunciated through the self-serving time bound SRO’s. Once the advantage was taken by the interested party, these SRO’s were made to lapse. No policy required. It is so very much in the principle of bureaucracy that routine work reigns over results. In the current environment, it is difficult to have any good opinion on the manner in which the government, enterprise and their functionaries, at all levels of hierarchy conduct themselves. The presence of a code of conduct policy suffers seriously from the ailment mom non implementation too.
The writer is a senior banker & a freelance columnist