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How to Be Creative While Still Following Policy

Policy Does not Necessarily Kill Creativity

“The policy states that…”

A couple of years ago, the director at my son’s early education center suggested that I contact the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to offer my workshops as part of their Professionalism continuing education track for early childhood educators. She explained that there weren’t a lot of courses available that covered organizational and leadership issues, and that they were probably looking for people to teach them.

I contacted the individual at MSDE who processed applications from potential instructors and explained my interest. She told me that MSDE would be very interested, if I would become certified as an early childhood educator. As you might expect, becoming certified included a big time and money commitment. If I was just teaching in the Professionalism track and addressing organizational issues like conflict, why would I need to know things like how to safely administer medication to children? When I called back, she said, “well, the COMAR [Code of Maryland Regulations] says that all of our trainers have to be certified in early childhood education, even if they are just teaching the Professionalism track.”

Because I am perseverant (some might say obsessive), I looked up the part of the Maryland law that governed continuing education for early childhood educators. In fact, the policy did not say anything about all educators being certified in early childhood education. It said that educators needed to demonstrate an acceptable level of expertise and education in their subject area.

I called back again and respectfully pointed out the discrepancy. She finally came clean about the actual issue: the database they used to keep track of early childhood educators and trainers did not allow for differentiation in credentials among the seven training areas. Because six of the seven areas required early childhood education experience and credentials, per the policy, the designers of the system decided that differentiation was not necessary. I would argue otherwise, but that is because I have a vested interest. However, she did admit that they were very short on Professionalism trainers and courses.

At that point, I decided that I had pursued this line of questioning far enough and that this particular MSDE employee deserved a break from my interrogations.

Being creative within a policy

We can easily become very comfortable in the way we get our work done. There are forms, databases, and a system in place that gets our customer or client from Point A to Point C. What about the client who can’t start at Point A? Or when it makes more sense for the client to start at Point B? Becoming familiar with the exact language of the policy or set of guidelines that governs your work will always be to your advantage, not only for management purposes, but also so that you can find ways to do things a little differently.

Reworking an existing process can be time-consuming and may also meet with resistance. Ultimately, however, with good buy-in and collaborative work, you can create something that works best for the client and the organization. You may not have to re-work the process, you may just need to “sidestep” a little bit for a particular customer or client. For example, MSDE could enter uncertified trainers’ names with a particular suffix, and then maintain a list of those trainers elsewhere (I don’t know if this is a good solution without knowing how their database works, but something like this may be possible). Encouraging your employees to be familiar with processes so that they can make informed decisions about what is possible encourages autonomy and builds affective commitment, which reduces turnover and moral injury (a.k.a. burnout).

Learn More

This article is part of the Human Systems Organizational Health Leadership Principle series: 15 principles that relate to the overall health of your organization. Other Human Systems Leadership Principles are contained in the Change Management, Community Embedding, Mutual Empowerment, and Ethics categories.

HS Leadership Principle #12: Encourage employees to take varied approaches to best meet the needs of the service user/customer.

Contact Human Systems to learn more about how to teach your employees to become familiar with organizational and legal policy, and how to identify ways to improve organizational processes while still adhering to guidelines.

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