A group of employees perform a policy review.
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December 26, 2017
    Article highlights
  • When to review policies and procedures.
  • Identifying policies and procedures that need to be updated.
  • How to update policies.

For some people, the idea of an employee policy manual brings to mind an image of a dusty binder sitting on a shelf.

These people tend to think of policies and procedures as inflexible and unchanging. Once they are created, they are in place for good.

But this is a flawed and problematic view of policies and procedures. Effective policy and procedure management requires far more than just creating a manual to sit on a shelf.

Policies and procedures are living documents that should grow and adapt with a company. While the core elements of policy may stay the same, the details should change with the industry and the organization.

Policy review and revision is a crucial part of an effective policy and procedure management plan.

Why is it important to review policies and procedures?

Outdated policies can leave your organization at risk. Old policies may fail to comply with new laws and regulations. They may not address new systems or technology, which can result in inconsistent practices.

Regularly reviewing policies and procedures keeps your organization up to date with regulations, technology, and industry best practices. Policy review ensures that your policies are consistent and effective.

Reviewing policies and procedures is especially important for high-risk or highly regulated industries such as healthcare, public safety, banking, and more. But organizations in every industry should regularly review and revise their company policies.

When to Review Policies and Procedures

With all the pressing daily tasks in the workplace, it’s easy for policy review to fall through the cracks. Administrators may know that it’s important to review policies and procedures, but other tasks take precedence.

However, policy review is best when its done regularly and proactively. Company leaders shouldn’t wait for an incident to occur before they review and update company policies.

Regular policy and procedure review

The best way to proactively tackle policy and procedure review is just to build it into the corporate calendar.

As a general rule, every policy should be reviewed every one to three years. But most experts recommend reviewing policies annually.

Policy review doesn’t have to be as daunting a task as it sounds. A good policy management software will let you set up workflows to collaborate with your policy review committee, gather feedback, and track approvals.

Organizational changes

When your organization goes through large-scale changes, it’s a good idea to review relevant policies. Policies should line up with the company’s mission, vision, and values. So if you have a change in strategic direction or a reorganization, it’s important to review policies to make sure they align with the changes.

These kinds of changes won't affect every policy. For example, a new structure probably won’t impact a vacation policy. But it may change other day-to-day policies and processes.

Changes to laws or regulations

Corporate laws and regulations change constantly. Compliance teams need to be aware of the changes and know which policies they impact.

If there is a big regulatory change, you may need to gather your policy review committee for a special meeting instead of waiting until the regularly scheduled review time.

Adopting the changes into your policies as soon as possible helps you start to adjust your workplace to the new regulations. If you build them into your policies early on, you’ll have a smooth transition into compliance when the new laws go into effect.

Policy review team checking out crucial documents.

An incident or policy violation

As mentioned before, you shouldn’t wait until an incident occurs to review your company policies.

However, an incident or policy violation can indicate the need for a change.

After an incident, it’s a good idea to do a debrief to make sure the policy had the intended effect. Examine the details of the incident to see if employees carried out the procedures properly. And look to see if there were any gaps in training or employee understanding of the policy.

This will help you determine whether you need to revise the policy in question.

Not every policy violation should result in sweeping policy changes. Sometimes it’s an isolated incident, calling for additional training or remediation for the employees involved.

But in some cases, especially if there are many incidents in the same area, the issue may be that the policy is outdated, confusing, or requires increased training.

Identifying Policies and Procedures That Need to Be Updated

Policy review doesn’t always result in policy revision. Sometimes, you may need to make big changes to address new regulations or gaps in policy. Other times, you may just make a few small tweaks.

And sometimes, the policy works as-is, with no revisions.

You’re not going to change or rewrite your policy manual every year. So how do you know which policies need to be updated?

Is the policy being implemented as intended?

It shouldn’t take an incident or high-profile issue to do an analysis of whether employees are complying with a policy and procedure.

If they are not, you need to determine why. Is the policy outdated?

Are the procedures difficult to follow? Have you introduced a new technology or process that the policy doesn’t address? Is it a training issue?

Gather feedback from line-level employees to help determine how you can improve the policy.

A group discusses their company's policy review process.

Is the policy having the desired effect?

Sometimes, employees are following the policy and procedure, but it’s not having the desired impact.

Every policy should have a clear goal or objective. Over time, this will help you measure whether the policy is effective.

For example, perhaps a policy was put in place to improve employee safety. If employees are following the policy but accidents are still occurring at the same rate, it’s time to examine how you can change the policy to be more effective.

Are the policies and procedures current and relevant?

Make sure your policies and procedures line up with how your current systems and structures actually work.

If policies and procedures refer back to old structures or technology, employees are more likely to ignore them or think that they don’t matter.

For example, perhaps your company has adopted flexible work arrangements, but your attendance and tardiness policy still revolves around old standard hours. You will need to update that to reflect the current system and make the new expectations clear.

How to Update Policies

Once you’ve established a regular policy review schedule and identified policies that need updating, it’s time to get to work on policy revisions.

Here are some best practices for updating policies and procedures:

Determine who is involved with this policy

Your policy writing team will differ depending on the policy. It could include supervisors who oversee the procedures, managers, HR directors, or executives. Try to gather a diverse group of people from different departments who have a say in that part of the business.

Once you’ve decided on your team, explain why a change is needed, and what needs to happen.

If it’s a small change, it may be as simple as recommending the specific changes in language or phrasing. In other cases – especially in the case of changes to laws or regulations – it may be a more involved change process. You may need to gather input from subject matter experts or general counsel.

If your organization is accredited, be sure to include the accreditation manager as well so they can ensure the wording meets the accreditation standards.

Document all comments and changes to the policy

As you consult with your policy writing team, make sure to document all comments, notes, and input from every team member.

Often, it’s helpful to appoint one policy owner to gather all the feedback and make the final edits. But you don’t want any essential feedback to slip through the cracks.

A policy management software like PowerDMS gives you full version control and a full audit trail for each document. You can create workflows, see who made what changes, and gather all notes in one centralized location.

Send updated draft for approval

Every policy should have an approver – someone (usually a company leader) who signs off on the policy before it becomes official.

Once you have a final policy draft, send it to the approver along with the reasons and research for the changes. Usually, this person is outside of the policy review and revision process. So including some of the background and reasoning behind the changes can help them see why it’s necessary to update the policy.

Distribute updated policies and procedures to employees

Distributing new policies to employees is the first step in implementing policy changes.

PowerDMS’s policy management tools make this simple. You can send out new or updated policies to all employees with just the click of a button. PowerDMS even allows you to show a comparison view of the old and new policies, highlighting changes.

To ensure that employees read and understand policy updates, have them sign off on the new policy. Use PowerDMS’s electronic signature tracker to make sure every employee acknowledges the changes.

Update any training or tests associated with the policy

Policy and training go hand in hand. So when you update policies and procedures, you’ll need to update training materials as well.

Make sure your training content matches the updated language and includes the correct procedures.

If the policy change is extensive enough, you may want to consider conducting training on the new processes to ensure employees understand the new policies and procedures.

Employee reviewing policy documents.

Don’t Wait to Review Your Policy and Procedures

It’s hard to overstate the importance of reviewing policies and procedures.

Keeping your policies and procedures updated helps minimize risks, increase operational excellence, and ensure your employees have the information to do their jobs well.

As you seek to keep your company’s policies current, use PowerDMS to collaborate with your policy team, track changes, and easily distribute new policies to all your employees.

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