First Time Policy: Policy Managers Guide to Version 1 Policy Writing
The hardest part for a policy manager, is writing the first version of a policy. This article is intended to give you a framework of what to include. It will show you how to organize your information into a flow that will make sense for your audiences and policy stakeholders. Even an experienced policy manager who uses policy templates, can get ideas for how they can improve on their policy outline.
The most important principle in policy management is to follow this 3 step cycle:
- Design, plan, and write
- Implement, monitor and control
- Review and revise
For many policies it may take several trips through this cycle to really get a policy to reflect the intent of your organization. Reviewing and revising is also critical to be able to handle the situations and exceptions that arise as the policy works in real time, everything is in a state of change. This is why the third step, review and revision is so important.
You may want to download the free How to Write My First Policy document that is available on this page. It can he helpful to refer to it while reading this article
Let’s look at the 5 main steps in the policy writing process.
- Policy Basics for Version Control
- Policy Statement and Intent
- Roles and Responsibilities
- Implementation: Conditions, Procedures, Controls and References
1. Policy Basics for Version Control
First things first, you need some top-level details for the policy, starting with the policy name. There can be pressure to try and come up with the perfect name. If you have a great name, great, if not, just give it a working name, often a good name will come out of the policy development process.
The rest of the listed items in the free download are related to the version control details and are extremely important as you implement the policy, go through version revision, and experience policy reviews from your stakeholders. Frequent revisions to the policy materials may be necessary for policies that are affected by more dynamic conditions. Other policies may become quite stable over time only requiring revisions if there is an incident that shows the policy and procedures need improvement.
Managing policies on paper or using a shared doc often means tracking revisions is more of a conscious and complicated process. Using an online policy review system allows you to have one central version of your policies. When you want to update the policy is easily duplicated and edited, these revisions can be scheduled and tracked. It makes the policy manager job of maintaining policies much simpler.
2. Policy Statement and Intent
Policy Statement and Intent is the summary that answers the question, “what is the situation or concern that affects us as stakeholders, and why do we need a policy to manage that situation?”. It sometimes takes the form of a message from the top person, CEO, President, or Executive team in the organization. When you can’t answer the question of why someone should pay attention and comply with company policies, the rest of the policy will not matter as much and your job implementing policies and getting policy compliance becomes much harder.
Definitions are one of those details that some people take for granted. A common phrase found in many policies is, “this policy applies to all employees”. This seems simple, but it raises questions, is a part time person an employee? Is a volunteer an employee (probably under most health and safety regulations)? Is a former employee an employee (most likely if there were terms in their employment agreement that survive their termination)?
Defining terms in policies makes sure everyone is on the same page with expectations and jargon but they can also clarify things for legal purposes. This is why definitions are an important component of policies.
4. Roles and Responsibilities
Roles and Responsibilities are often used together because responsibilities very depending on the role. A supervisor role may have different levels of responsibility than an employee who is not in a supervisory or management role. What are the different roles, how do you categorize job types? Does one have more interactions with the public, does one have authority over another? These roles will come with different rules to follow which can be termed responsibilities.
Identifying these different roles and their respective responsibilities can help create a policy that equips everyone with the tools to manage real life scenarios. Writing policies too generally or without including the perspective of other roles can reduce an individuals ability to handle situations. For example a Respectful Workplace or Harassment Prevention Policy may include who the policy applies to. Does it apply to a supplier? A customer? A well written Respectful Workplace policy allows staff in different roles to assist in and handle situations that involve people who have not formally agreed to follow the policy. Including procedures in the policy also gives employees steps to follow if they experience harassing behaviour.
5. Implementation: Conditions, Procedures, Controls, and References
Implementation is where all the action is. It is a combination of the previous four components.
- Conditions are the circumstances or situations that create a decision point. Let’s look at an example, someone makes a rude comment, embarrassing you in front of your coworkers. This is the condition that creates a decision point which is how to respond. In a policy the scenario that comes after the word “if” or “when” is the condition. When developing policies, it is important to anticipate the various conditions that the policy could to apply to.
- Procedures are the sets of instructions that relate to the Conditions. Every policy will typically have at least one procedure for what to do in the event of a violation of the policy. In the harassment prevention example, there could be one policy for responding to unwanted behaviour that covers various degrees of behaviour from mild to severe. There could also be separate procedures for scenarios that are handled informally and ones that are formally reported and investigated.
- Controls are the tools and techniques used to monitor. How will we know if the policy is working? How do we know the policy is effective, and also being efficient? Controls are what organizations use to monitor how the policies are working. For example looking at patterns in cost savings, reduced complaints, increased satisfaction, productivity etc.
- References are relevant sources of related information. This can include relevant legislation, regulations, codes of conducts etc. For example, policies could reference Human Rights legislation, workplace health and safety regulations, or professional code of conduct requirements. When a policy exists in reference to external regulations it is important to be aware and monitor any changes in the external regulation to ensure the policies are kept up to date and in sync with the regulations.
This is a summary of the policy writing process that can be used as a starting point. When starting something new, coming up with the framework of the process can be the hardest part. We are sharing this with you in the hope that it helps you create the policies you need.
Our area of expertise is policy management. While we don’t write policies as part of our services we do work with a lot of policy managers, human resource professionals, risk manager, compliance managers, and the people who manage policies and procedures in their business regardless of title.
What people really want is a way to get all employees to review their policies, understand them, and agree to follow them. Some people call this policy management, policy training, policy review and policy sign off. Whatever you call it, that’s what we do and we have crafted an extremely efficient policy review system.
Talk to us about how you can manage your policies and procedures in an online system.