How to Write Policies and Procedures
A guide to developing effective policies and procedures.
- What to do before you begin the writing process.
- Steps to writing policies and procedures.
- How to implement new policies and procedures.
Policies and procedures are the lifeblood of your organization.
As the framework for your daily operations and a reflection of your values, your policies help guide your employees into success through compliance.
Because they define standards for conduct, your policies and procedures play a large role in creating the culture of your company or organization. They can also equip you to meet strategic goals, reduce risk, and identify opportunities for improvement.
As you consider developing your policies and procedures, it’s important to understand the relationship between the two.
According to Risk Management Magazine, policies are high-level principles that “set the directional tone” of your organization. Procedures, on the other hand, define lower-level processes.
Essentially, they are the steps your employees need to take to adhere to your policies.
If you want to lead your organization well, writing effective policies and procedures is a great first step.
Here are a few best practices for building a solid foundation in guiding your team toward success.
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Before You Begin Writing Policies
Writing policies and procedures can be a long, involved process. Much of the work involves preparation and will take place before you even begin.
But because these documents impact everyone at work every day, it’s important to get it right.
Keep in mind that getting these foundational pieces in order ahead of time can prevent more work for you and your team in the long run.
Develop a policy charter or mandate
Before you dive into the policy-writing process, it’s important that everyone is on board.
Since the policies you develop not only drive the culture of your office but have legal implications, you will need the approval from upper management.
Once you have the official approval, you can consider your policy process officially sanctioned. Next, it’s time to move forward on developing your actual policies.
As you get started, it may be helpful to keep the end goal in mind.
Consider why you are writing your new policies/series of policies, and let that inform the specifics along the way.
Along the same lines, make sure the entire team, including management, buys into your “why” early on.
Being on the same page is important since this piece will affect the tone, content, and even organization of your policy manual.
Use a standard policy structure
Using a standard policy structure makes your policy document clear and organized. This will ensure your document is easy to understand and navigate in a pinch.
Adhering to a template or structure will also streamline the writing process and save time for you. In addition to organizing your policies and procedures clearly, you will want to ensure you determine what sections and information you will cover in each policy.
Here are a few ideas of what to include.
- Document Header: information about the policy including title, effective/revision dates, approver’s signature, and department.
- Introduction/Purpose Statement: what is the policy about and the reason for having the policy?
- Policy statement: what is the policy statement of your organization specific to the topic?
- Definitions: it’s important to define terms as you go, especially for words and phrases with multiple meanings. This will make policies clear and could you from arguing about definitions should you face litigation.
- Procedures: step-by-step instructions for routine tasks and operations.
- Conduct: guidelines for proper behavior and restrictions on employee behavior.
- Reporting Requirements: what employees need to report after an incident.
Select a technology to manage the process
Using a single source of truth as you write policies and procedures is another way to simplify the process.
By selecting one technology to use, you can make the process more visible for your team.
Choosing an online policy management software also means your policy and procedure documents will be easy to access from anywhere, anytime.
Ultimately, starting your documents in a single location and keeping them there as they evolve will make your policies easier to manage down the road.
Form a policy management team
Developing a team to write your policies and procedures is a great way to ensure you include everything necessary.
Because your policies cast a wide net across your organization, consider drawing people from different departments for input. You may also want to include experts who can help you adhere to local, state, and federal laws.
CHRON recommends also defining an “owner” to hold accountable for reviews, revisions, and distribution of your policies.
How to Write Policies and Procedures
Now that you’ve defined your goals, developed your team, and organized everything needed, you can start the process of actually writing your policy documents.
Prioritize a policy list
Keep in mind that you can’t tackle every policy at once.
The first step is to create a list of new policies that need to be written and existing policies that need revisions or updates.
To begin with, meet with your policy team and decide what you need to address. Remember, the best way to stay on track is to keep your end goal in mind when defining your priorities.
Conduct thorough research
Take a look at your existing procedures to zone in on how things are currently done.
You will also want to investigate any compliance issues that may have prompted your policy review.
There are a few ways you can investigate or research existing processes:
- Interview those involved in day-to-day tasks.
- Shadow employees to see what current procedures are.
- Discuss with internal/external subject-matter experts.
- Find up-to-date laws/regulations/accreditation standards.
- Identify overlapping policies to ensure consistent language and requirements.
Write an initial draft
After defining what you need to cover, you can begin your first draft. As discussed, you will want to make your policy and procedure manual as clear as possible.
Having someone other than the policy owner write the initial draft may help facilitate an outsider’s perspective, ultimately making your procedures more transferable to daily operations.
This could also help to simplify the language and remove technical jargon that would clutter your document.
Validate the procedures
To ensure your procedures make sense, you need to see them in action.
It’s always a good idea to go back to the employees who do the daily work and have them perform the procedures.
This validation would only apply to the process and procedures portion, not the policy/prohibited actions aspect.
Send draft out for review
Now that you have written a draft, it’s time to review it.
If you had a non-expert help with your draft for clarity’s sake, it’s even more important to ask an expert to review your document. Having a thorough review and approval process is key.
One helpful way to streamline this process for everyone is to use a software with audit trail features.
Think of this as a simple way to access your document’s history so you can pinpoint any changes.
With PowerDMS’ workflow functionality, you can collaborate on revisions, ensuring none of your material gets lost along the way.
Obtain final approval/sign off
Typically there is someone on the executive team who needs sign off on each policy.
Ultimately, this person is accountable for the policy, and they need to officially approve the final draft. This should always be done by the highest level of leadership that makes sense for each policy.
For example, an IT manager shouldn’t be signing off on an Acceptable Use Policy. It should be the CTO or CIO who is ultimately responsible.
Implementing New Policies and Procedures
Writing your policies and procedures is just the beginning. Next, you need to come up with an implementation plan to ensure compliance.
Distribute policy document
The first step to implementing your policies is distributing them.
Choosing an online software to house your important documents means your employees will be able to access them at any time, even outside the office.
If all the policies are one, online spot, they can easily search for (and comply to) policies and procedures.
You can also ensure your team reviews and understands your policies by having them electronically sign off on your documents.
Create a training plan
Remember, it’s not enough to simply send employees a policy and expect compliance.
You need to make sure you develop training so employees understand your expectations. Using an online platform with a training management tool could make this much easier.
With customizable online training, you can save valuable time and money while helping your employees quickly understand your policies. You can also test them on their knowledge to make sure they’ve retained the information, and then bolster or update your training accordingly.
Establish a review cycle
Because laws and best practices are always evolving, your policy documents likely will, too.
Part of a healthy, robust policy management process is establishing timelines for when a policy needs review.
Other parts of your policy manual may only need to review or revision annually or every few years.
Whenever you choose to review them, planning ahead as part of the writing process will help you ensure policies are never out of date.
Whether you’re reviewing and revising old policies or developing new ones for the first time, make sure to both stay attentive to details and keep the big picture in mind throughout the process.
Your policy and procedure manual sets the tone for conduct in your organization and ultimately defines your daily operations.
By taking the time to make yours effective, you’re taking a big step toward positively developing your organization.