Oh, We Don’t Need it in Writing….

Why are people reluctant to write things down?  Is it because it’s too time consuming?  In a field with limited resources and large workloads, we don’t want to stop the actual work to write down how to do the work.  Is it because our programs are always a work in progress?  No sooner do you put something in writing, than it’s already out of date.  Or is it because of hubris?  We know what we’re doing and we don’t need cumbersome policies and procedures to prove it.  Whatever the cause of the reluctance, programs without written policies and procedures are flirting with danger.  Here are my top 6 reasons for advocating for written policies and procedures:

  1. Consistency – you have a road map for treating everyone the same way
  2. Fairness – when you treat everyone the same way, the process is fair
  3. Transparency – you take the mystery out of the process, for the homebuyers, the program staff, and the Board
  4. Preservation of Institutional Knowledge – when your long-term staff person suddenly leaves, you have a record of how s/he ran the program
  5. Big Picture Thinking – having to write down your policies and procedures forces you to step back and take a big picture view of how you run your program
  6. Filling in Gaps – often this big picture view brings up places that you still need to work through and make decisions.  This is a pro-active approach to program management, as opposed to reacting to emergencies.

Stewardship Standard 1.7 addresses this very issue: the “program has adopted detailed policies and procedures to direct program operations.”  Most people in our working sessions agreed that this is necessary in concept, but folks were less enthusiastic about our proposed practice, that there be a detailed program manual. One person made the case for why a manual is impractical: it takes a while to get to that point, things change too quickly, and there are too many different government agency requirements to make a manual practical. But another person pointed out that without written policies and procedures, inevitably conflict will happen and you’ll be in trouble. Help us explore this idea of written policies and procedures.  Is the idea of a “manual” too daunting?  Without a manual (in print or online), how do you know where to find information about how to run all the various pieces of your program?  What other practices would ensure that programs have written and easily accessible policies and procedures?  How do you keep them relevant and up to date?  Join the conversation….

Rachel Silver

As Director of Cornerstone Partnership, Rachel Silver brings more than 15 years of experience working with public and private agencies to create new affordable housing opportunities, with a focus on innovative ownership models, buyer selection and education, and post-purchase stewardship. She received her BA degree from Williams College in Massachusetts and her MA in City Planning from the University of California at Berkeley.

One Comment

  1. Certainly essential advice here, Rachel. How can one measure progress towards one’s goals and objectives without documentation that standardizes practices?

    When you consider the mix of community partners required to move any substantive initiative forward in today’s operating environment–how can you not take the time to be clear on expectations–and use that framework as the basis for building enduring and mutually beneficial partnerships across the community landscape.

    I may be speaking partly from my own 21+ years of service in the federal government and time devoted to building sustainable partnerships in achieving mutually desirable organization/community development goals in a mix of settings–but it is unconsciousable to me how one could expect to conduct workmanlike activities without this structure as being fundamental for building one’s business upon.

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