Addressing Resistance to Change in Policy and Procedure Writing

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by Catherine Hibbard

asdasdasd Policy writing and procedure writing is challenging because of the mechanics involved. Words must be carefully chosen; nuances must be considered. Understanding the mechanics of writing these documents is critical; however, an often overlooked aspect should be dealt with before the first word is written. How can policy and procedure writing tiptoe around the elephant in the room that everyone is trying to ignore?

Let's name our elephant "Status Quo." People seem to be adverse to change—after all—who wants their cheese moved? Perhaps that's why when you write new policies and procedures, you may encounter resistance from your readers. When people learn that a new policy or procedure is about to be unveiled, the following comments may be heard: You have got to be kidding—right? We have never done it this way before. This is the stupidest policy/procedure I have ever seen! Whose idea was this in the first place?

First of all, people's reactions have nothing to do with the way in which you have written your document. Most likely it comes down to fear—fear of the unknown. People's discomfort may include these specific fears:

  • Fear of looking foolish
  • Fear of being taken advantage of
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of losing face

Try following these six basic steps the next time you are faced with writing policies and procedures:involve, explain, listen, enforce, reinforce, evaluate.

Involving Readers

Rather than involving your readers at the end of the process, involve them from the start. Early communication reduces later resistance. By communicating on the front end, you may detect specific fears and concerns so they can be addressed. Maybe the new policy or procedure will mean more work or more time from the group. The sooner you get these issues out in the open, the better chance you have of reducing them to a manageable level.

Explaining and Listening

Keep talking to people and continue to run ideas by users. Continue to solicit their input when possible. Ask their opinions and listen to them carefully. "Test run" possible approaches on them. Another benefit of constantly explaining and listening to your intended audience is the likelihood of pinpointing any weaknesses or errors.

Including Grace Periods

Before enforcement becomes final, a grace period is often used to pave the way to final adoption. This provides a gradual transition prior to full enforcement. Offering a grace period is an excellent way to gain additional preparation time. It is a good idea if the policy or procedure is controversial, complicated, or represents a major change from current practice. Grace periods provide a learning curve and dial back any feelings of pressure.

Policy and procedure writing is seldom easy. Therefore, if we acknowledge that our readers may be resistant to change, we can use the communication process to offer some specific tools to help readers manage change. Our new mantra of involve, explain, listen, enforce, reinforce, evaluate may diminish our readers' resistance to change. They may even ask us to move their cheese!

About the Author

Catherine Hibbard

Catherine S. Hibbard is a nationally recognized expert in business and technical writing. Her company, Cypress Media Group, is an advertising, public relations, and training firm that provides training and consulting primarily related to business and technical writing, presentation skills, and media relations.

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Catherine was ranked 9th on The Top 100 Influencers in #Techcomm bloggers list in 2013.

She can be reached by e-mail at catherine@cypressmedia.net.

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