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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, and especially for someone new to policy management. This article is intended to give you a framework of what to include, and how to organize your information into a flow that will make sense for your audiences and policy stakeholders. Even an experienced policy manager who has a policy template they rely on when starting a new policy can get ideas for how they can improve on their policy outline. After all the most important principle in policy management is to follow this 3 -step cycle:

  1. Design, plan, and write
  2. Implement, monitor and control
  3. 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 and to be able to handle the situations and exceptions that arise as everything is in a state of change. Which is why the last step of having a process for frequent review and revisions.

You may want to download the free How to Write My First Policy PDF that is available on this page. It can he helpful to refer to that as this article follows the 5 Steps for Policy Writing included in that document.

Let’s look at the 5 main steps in the policy writing process.

  1. Policy Basics for Version Control
  2. Policy Statement and Intent
  3. Definitions
  4. Roles and Responsibilities
  5. Implementation: Conditions, Procedures, Controls and References

Get the basics includes the top-level details for the policy starting with the policy name. This can be a show stopper for some people as they try and come up with the perfect name. If you have a great name, great, if not give it a working name and trust that a good name will come out of the policy development process.

The rest of the items in the free download are related to the version control details and are extremely important as you implement the policy, as you manage through each version revision, and policy reviews by your stakeholders. Frequent revisions to the materials may be necessary for the initial versions and for policies that are affected by more dynamic conditions. And some policies may become quite stable over time only requiring revisions when there is an incident which points out an area where the policy and procedures need improvement.

The version control details, when used in an online policy review system allow you to have one central version, track when the next scheduled revision to the materials needs to be completed, and makes the policy manager job maintaining your policy much simpler. Managing policies on paper or using a shared doc creates a lot of problems tracking the latest version and knowing who has reviewed which version. Even if you are not using an online review system it’s a good practice to use these details to keep your policies up to date.

Policy Statement and Intent is the top-level 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 an address 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 to this and do what you are telling them to, the rest of the policy will not matter much and your job implementing and getting compliance with your policy becomes much greater.

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 raises the question, is a part time person an employee? Is a volunteer person an employee (probably under most health and safety regulations)? Is a former employee and employee (most likely if there were terms in their employment agreement that survive their termination)?

Roles and Responsibilities are often used together because the 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. If you think of a policy as a rule or set of rules. Who do the rules apply to and are their groups within this overall set of people that there are variations to the rules that lead to different responsibilities?

A good example of this is a Respectful Workplace or Harassment Prevention Policy. Does the policy apply to a supplier who is dropping off a shipment at your workplace? Or a customer who is calling to complain about their order delivery? A well written Respectful Workplace policy that is posted at the door to your workplace and is publicly accessible allows your employees to refer to it, even when interacting with someone who has not formally reviewed and signed off on the policy. Ideally you have a related Procedure which gives the employee the steps to follow in the event of harassing behaviour in these situations if they apply to you.

Implementation is where all the action is. It’s really a combination of these four related and inter-dependant parts.

Conditions are the circumstances or situations that create a decision point. Let’s look at an example, if someone makes rude unwanted comments embarrassing you in front of your coworkers, then you have a decision to make as to how to respond. What comes after the word “if” or “when” is the condition. When developing policies, it is important to anticipate the various conditions that the policy is intended 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 behavior that covers various degrees of behaviour from mild to severe. Or there could be separate procedures for ones 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, being effective, and also being efficient? Controls are what organizations use to monitor what is actually happening, relative to what was intended, and expected to happen.

References are relevant sources of related information, such as Human Rights legislation, workplace health and safety regulations, and professional code of conduct requirements. When a policy is driven by external regulations it is important to be aware and monitor for changes in the external regulation to ensure your 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. And when doing 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 can the policies you need in place.

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 whoever manages the policies and procedures in their business, regardless of their 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 sign off. Whatever you call it, that is what we do and we have a really efficient policy review system.

Talk to us about how you can manage your policies and procedures in and online system. We have a lot of answers.

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