How to Structure an Effective Policy
Policies and procedures are the first line of defense against risk for any organization. If a public safety agency is taken to court, due to an incident involving one of their employees, it is extremely important to be able to show a policy is in place pertaining to the incident and the employee was trained on the proper practices associated with the policy.
In my personal experience, in addition to having the proper policies available, it is important to have your policies structured in an effective manner. If you are going to take the time to create a policy manual, take the extra step to make all policies consistent and professional.
During a recent online training seminar conducted in partnership with PowerDMS, I shared suggestions—based on what I have seen through years of litigation—for structuring an effective policy. Here are my thoughts:
1. Create a Template
It is important to have one, consistent, professional-looking template as the baseline for all policies. You lose credibility during litigation if you are presenting policies with little or no consistency.
- Each policy should look similar
- Use common sections and categories
- Choose a consistent, professional font and size
2. Save as PDF for Easy Indexing
You can choose to save your completed policies as a PDF in most versions of Microsoft Word. PDFs can be indexed, making searching a breeze.
- Search by topic
- Search by keyword
3. Establish a Structure
Creating a framework for your policies, and sticking to it, has several benefits. Not only does it look professional and make things easier to find, agreeing to specific elements forces you to ensure you are covering all aspects of the policy. A structure could include:
- Purpose Statement – What is the policy about?
- Policy Statement – What is the policy statement of the agency specific to topic?
- Definitions – Create definitions as you go, especially for words and terms with multiple meanings. This will save you from having to argue about the definition in court. Once you have created definitions in all policies, take them all out and create a comprehensive dictionary.
- Procedures – Show staff what is expected of them.
- Allowed Conduct – What they are allowed to do?
- Prohibited Conduct – What they are not allowed to do?
- Reporting Requirements – What needs to be reported after an incident?
There is no fail-safe recipe for creating policies that will protect you against lawsuits. However, if you create and follow a structure for consistent policy development, you will be better protected and reduce your risk of liability. It’s a chance you can’t afford to take!
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