Implied policies are policies that are never written in any employee manual, but are implied due to real world practices or are side effects of explicit policies. The classic example is when an employee gives notice to an employer and the employer counter-offers with a raise. In some cases, a raise that was refused earlier.
This was recently well illustrated by Scott Adams in the Dilbert comic strip on May 14 (click image to see full-size)
This is probably all too common in many workplaces. I certainly have worked at places in which the only means to receiving a raise is to threaten to quit. At one work place, I knew of a couple coworkers who over the years threatened to quit several times each, receiving a raise in compensation of one form or another each time.
In most cases, this is symptomatic of a dysfunctional work environment that is incapable of valuing employees and paying them what they are worth.
Good managers pay attention to implied policies as much as they do the explicit policies. This is sometimes easier said than done, as it is not always clear what the unintended side-effects of a policy might create. Mary Poppendieck highlights several examples (pdf) of the unintended side-effects of common popular compensation policies. The recent announcement to dismiss the infamous Microsoft Curve is perhaps a recognition of the negative side effects of peer competitive approaches to compensation.
Johanna Rothman points out another implied policy when management is unwilling to budge on any of the four key constraints of software development:
If management stubbornly persists on asking for all features (scope) without willing to budge on time, resources, or quality. Then managment is making an implicit decision. As Johanna states (and I reword), not making a decision is an implicit decision. By not deciding on which features to prioritize, management is effectively delegating strategic decisions concerning which projects to staff and which to postpone.
Once you start taking a hard look at your workplace, you can probably come up with a laundry list of implicit policies. What are some of the ones you’ve experienced?