At New America Weekly, Tami Forman, the executive director of Path Forward, observes critically that many employers put supportive policies in place for their employees, but then let their organization’s managers or culture undermine them:
If we were to investigate all the moments when policy and practice get misaligned, I think the first place to look is executive disconnect and even hubris. Too many people in the C-Suite believe that if they say something is important then the rank-and-file will automatically understand that it’s important. Too often they fail to connect the policy to corporate goals in a way that makes it clear that the practice is important to success. Generally speaking, companies adopt family friendly policies to attract and retain the most talented employees. That won’t happen if the company gets a reputation for not allowing those same employees to use family friendly benefits. Even the public relations benefits of a good policy will be undermined if employees to take to sites like Glassdoor to complain. When executives fail to connect these dots, is it any wonder that line managers fall back onto the practices that are more comfortable and familiar?
In fact, many companies have policies that create unintended disincentives to the practices around flexibility. For example, too many companies still calculate head-count by literally counting the number of heads that are on the books with benefits. If a company offers benefits to part-time workers (a great family friendly practice!) then departments can end up feeling short-staffed if those part-time workers count as full-timers from a budgeting perspective. If the department head has discretion they will deny requests for part-time schedules — a practice they probably already resisted. Executives need to be proactive in supporting managers through training, development, and aligning resources and outcomes. When they fail at any of these, the family friendly policies are often the first things to fly out the window.
Forman is coming at this issue from the perspective of supporting working parents, especially mothers, but the same principle of translating vision into practice resonates in many other areas of business leadership.
In particular, it reminds me of one of the organizations CEB profiled in our recent study on Open Source Change (which CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can read here). Salesforce’s V2MOM tool serves as a vehicle through which the CEO can communicate directly with employees and explain very succinctly what his visions, values, methods, obstacles, and measures are and how they all fit together. This reduces the risk of managers not communicating certain objectives, whether that’s because they don’t understand their importance themselves or because they dislike their implications.