Worker using an effective policy management software, PowerDMS, on her computer.
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March 12, 2019
    Article highlights
  • Why effective policy management is important.
  • Elements of effective policy management.
  • Getting started.

An essential part of any organization is effective policy management, which creates the necessary framework to guide its behavior.

To run smoothly, a business needs to create solid policies that serve a variety of functions. They communicate a company’s mission and values, help maintain standards, set expectations, and minimize potential risks and liabilities.

Think of a policy and procedure manual as the heart of an organization, laying the foundation for operational excellence. By following policy management best practices, these policies set expectations, provide a direction for decisions, and hold employees accountable.

Why Effective Policy Management Is Important

There can be a huge gap between those who set the policies and those employees who are expected to know and follow these policies. This highlights the critical importance of why effective policy management matters. It gives you a detailed plan and a cohesive system to keep your policy communication and implementation in sync.

Challenges to good policy management

The sheer size and scope of policy management can be daunting, especially for larger organizations or businesses in highly regulated or high-risk industries.

Regardless of size or industry, most organizations have numerous policies – many of which need to be regularly revised. Keeping those policies current, as well as tracking policy signatures, can prove difficult.

Additional challenges can make effective policy management even tougher, such as an increasingly remote workforce and constantly changing laws and regulations. These challenges demand an agile business whose policies can quickly adapt.

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Consequences of poor policy management

Poor policy management takes many forms, including a complete lack of policies, not having the right policies, having disorganized or outdated policies, and having weak policy enforcement (or none at all).

When your corporate policy management is weak, outdated, or fragmented, it can wreak havoc on your business and open you up to risk and liability including potential lawsuits, penalties, and fines. This might result in increased oversite and regulation, and it can destroy your credibility and hard-earned reputation.

Moreover, the inefficiencies and costs associated with more manual or paper-based efforts are frustrating at best and, expensive and wasteful, at worst.

Did you know, for example, that printing is often a company’s third-highest expense—behind rent and payroll? And when it comes to being eco-friendly, forget about it. According to Environment Defense, the average employee uses 10,000 sheets of paper annually.

This can translate into roughly $800 per employee per year between paper and printing costs. Plus, with 45% of paper printed in the office ending up in the trash at day’s end, that means hundreds of pounds of paper per person end up in the landfill.

Elements of Effective Policy Management

When you are trying to piece together a comprehensive, effective solution, it pays to understand and follow policy management best practices – from pre-policy tasks to the continuous monitoring and audit.

As a first step – before you even draft your first policy – identify key policy stakeholders within your organization, such as Human Resources, Legal, Finance, IT, and Compliance.

Establish a Policy Committee filled with top-level management who can align policies and procedures throughout the company and keep policy efforts on course. And clearly identify management roles and responsibilities to boost accountability.

Once the key players are in place, use a structured framework to create all policies. Develop a “master policy” that clearly outlines the process of creating, reviewing, and approving all future company policies. Craft a standard policy template in structure, design, and style.

Employee reviews policy management content in paper.

For example, include a legal disclaimer, key sections, and your company logo. And write in a clear, consistent style to make policies easy to understand.

Once policies are written, it’s time to deploy them, which includes developing a formal employee communication, training, and attestation plan. This provides a clear path to ensure employees know about the policies, understand what’s expected of them, and sign the policies. The final step? Creating a plan to continuously review, monitor, audit, and revise your policies as needed.

Now that you understand the basic steps for effective policy management, what key elements should you include?

Common policy template and language

Employees should know, at a glance, that a document is a formal policy and the language used should be common, easy to understand, and relevant to their business.

Because every company’s needs are different, you can’t simply use a sample policy, take a copy-and-paste approach, and assume it will meet your particular needs.

Central location for all policies

In the past, all organizations relied on paper-based methods to manage policies. (Unfortunately, many still do. But there’s a better way – automated policy management. More on this later.) There are a lot of down-sides to using paper-based methods.

For example, because all policies are printed, they would need to be updated manually – a costly, time-consuming, inefficient approach. Also, relying on a paper-based system often means a more siloed approach, with different departments or divisions creating different solutions.

This often results in confusing (and sometimes even contradictory) policies because everyone is not on the same page.

The gold standard in effective policy management? Create a single source of truth for all policies so employees never have to guess where to look for information.

Version control of policy revisions

When your business changes a policy, employees need to be alerted that there is a change and that the old policy has been removed from circulation. Trying to manage policy versions is beyond challenging if you’re dealing with a paper-based system.

This goes hand-in-hand with the previous element of having a central location for all policies. This guarantees that employees have the latest and most accurate information at all times.

In reality, keeping your critical documents accurate, current, and accessible can only be done with policy management software.

Defined approval process

Typically, policy changes need to go through a number of approvals before they are finally published. Therefore, it is important to have a clearly defined process that is followed for each new policy. Besides making the policy process more efficient, it ensures all pertinent approvers are included in the changes.

Attestation tracking and reporting

An important element of effective policy management lies in your ability to track who has received, reviewed, and signed each policy revision. This is crucial for proving compliance and reducing liability. It’s not enough to simply email a policy change or put it in employees’ mailboxes – you need to be able to prove they have acknowledged receipt of the policy.

Policies are reviews regularly

Writing policies isn’t a one-and-done effort where the end result sits in a giant, dusty, three-ring binder on a shelf. Think of the policies themselves as living documents that must adapt to the changing landscape and ever-changing risks your business faces.

As a rule of thumb, most policies should be reviewed at least every year. That doesn’t mean they need to be updated annually. But they should be reviewed to ensure they are still relevant and achieving the desired effect.

Employee reading the Equal Employment Opportunity Policy on their policy management software.

Train to your policies

For effective policy management, you should adopt the mantra “train to your policies.” To achieve better compliance and reduce your risk, your training needs to reinforce your policies.

The language should be the same. The training should talk specifically about how it pertains to policy compliance. And you need to test employees to ensure they comprehend what the policy or procedure is they are supposed to follow.

Getting Started

Implementing policies and procedures through the lens of best practices ensures that employees always know where to go to find the most up-to-date information. This will help them do their jobs with excellence and in line with the mission, vision, and values of the entire company.

With a solid grasp of the basic steps for effective policy management – including the key elements to include every step of the way – turn to a policy management solution like PowerDMS to help you implement each element quickly and efficiently.

Automated policy management saves time, reduces costs, ensures consistency, and provides one centralized, easily accessible location to house your most critical documents. Plus, it boosts your agility by allowing you to easily incorporate the latest laws and regulations into your policy changes, thus reducing your risk and liability.

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