I know what you're thinking: policies and procedures are for corporations.  They're designed to regulate behavior. To codify processes. To define. To restrict.

Think again. Sure, you may need a few policies to ensure that specific behaviors fall within certain guidelines, but in many cases you can create policies that provide greater freedom, greater autonomy and greater flexibility -- in short, policies that create a great culture and make your business a great place to work.

That's increasingly important as the competition for great employees gets increasingly tougher. Great employees have choices about the work they do, where they do it and, most importantly, how they do it.

Keep in mind you don't need to spend hours crafting comprehensive policies that address every possible contingency. GM CEO Mary Barra came up with a two-word dress code: "Dress appropriately." Prior to Barra, GM's dress code was ten pages long. Her thinking was simple: if people can't handle "dress appropriately," what other judgement calls are they struggling to make?

Here are some policies to implement in your small business:

1. Work from Home

If you're in retail, restaurants or manufacturing, working from home may not be an option. In many other businesses, allowing employees to work from home at least occasionally is often more feasible than you might think.

Plus, some employees will be more productive, not less.

So, what should your policy look like? Clearly, that depends on the nature of your business, but here's a good start from Inc. colleague Jeff Haden:

  • Get your work done.
  • Be available.
  • Over communicate.

As Jeff says, those seven words cover most of the issues you'll face. And if they don't, you can deal with those situations one-off rather than as systemic issues that require a more comprehensive policy.

2. Pets at Work

Some businesses simply can't have pets due to building restrictions. Others shouldn't. For example, a dog wandering through a restaurant is a bad look.

And, of course, there are more specific issues. Some employees may be allergic. Others may have pets that have the social skills of, well, animals. Opening up the workplace to pets can test the patience and cohesiveness of even the best groups.

But it can also be a perk your employees love.

Decide what is best for your business. Maybe pets can roam free. Maybe you'll take each case on a trial basis and determine whether freedom or crating makes better sense. Just make sure you're prepared to explain the reasoning behind your overall policy as well as any specific decisions you need to make.

Your employees may not love what you decide, but at least they'll understand.

3. Dress Code

Is Mary Barra's policy too fuzzy for you? That's okay. Again, decide what works for your business. If your employees never come into direct contact with customers, what they wear is basically irrelevant. If they occasionally come into contact, find a happy medium.

Just keep in mind that standards for dress have become increasingly relaxed over the past decade or so. Customers expect employees to look clean and neat; otherwise their clothing should simply be a non-issue.

And really, that's the best dress code policy. Simply ask your employees to dress in a way that ensures customers will focus on your products and services, not on what your people wear.

4. Vacations and Sick Time

Here's where determining the best policy can get a little tricky. Time off is clearly a perk that employees care about, but if you're running a startup you may not be able to afford to provide something as eye-catching as "unlimited" vacation time.

And as for sick days, keep in mind that you want your employees to take sick days when they're actually sick.

So where should you start? A good place is to see what your competitors offer. Do they really offer unlimited vacations? Do they really provide two weeks of sick days? Find out what your competition does and do your best to at least match it -- and if you can't, try to find other perks that can offset the difference.

How will you know what will offset the difference? Ask. If you can pull off a 4-day work week, ask your employees if they're interested in working longer hours over a shorter number of days. Ask them if flex time is important. Ask them what they truly care about.

After all, the best perks -- and the best policies -- provide real value to your employees.

Published on: Jul 24, 2018