Legislating Character

A couple of months ago I was visiting with a friend who is on staff of a large church in the Midwest. We were talking about personnel policies since we were in the middle of re-thinking ours. He sent me a copy of his church's personnel manual, which was roughly the size of the unabridged Encyclopedia Britannica.

Policies are important for every organization. They define the boundaries of the playing field and help ensure a relative amount of consistency across the organization to ensure everyone is playing the game with the same expectations. More than anything, they exist for the sake of clarity.

But policy manuals go wrong when we forget that it is impossible to legislate character.

If the sole purpose of your policy manual is to allow you to trust your employees, you've got the cart before the horse.

When an employee does something outside the pale of what is normally acceptable, the first instinct is often to create a new policy. This almost never solves the problem. Instead, it inevitably creates new problems: Malicious employees who need policies to stay in line will always find ways around policies no matter how many you write. Trustworthy employees will be frustrated by the lack of flexibility because of policies you created for someone else.

My experience says that policies ought to address patterns you experience with multiple trustworthy employees. Patterns with individual trustworthy employees need to be addressed in frank conversations. Employees who are not trustworthy, pattern or not, should be dismissed from your team as quickly as possible. Why? You can't legislate character.


Josh Horton said...

since this post is a day old, ill ask my "opening a can of worms" question. Where do you think this fits into the ideology we see by certain church groups about legislating morality on the federal level? What is to far? Whats simply not enough? Id love to know your views on that.

Chris Freeland said...

In short, I think there's tension. Government's responsibility is to restrain evil and protect the people(Romans 13). But, we delude ourselves if we think that the way to change a nation is by legislating "good behavior."

I think we ought to spend our "institutional" ammo decrying things that would limit our ability to speak freely about the Truth first and foremost.

Furthermore, rather than "the Church" taking a reactive stance to everything politicians try to do I would love to see us proactively train people with a worldview that helps them make better personal decisions at the ballot box. But that has to be proactive training, not lobbying.