Four Questions to Help Improve Policy Management

Policy Assessment

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Answering a few short questions in our policy management assessment will give you instant feedback and suggestions on ways to improve how you manage important policies and procedures at your company.

Any professional tasked with developing and administrating policies knows all too well the challenges that must be overcome. Policy creation, file management, employee access, and communication regarding new and updated policies can be tricky if you don’t use the right tools and instead opt for ad-hoc methods. Over time, as more policies are put in place, the problems can escalate to a point where it becomes overwhelming. That’s why it can be helpful for policy managers to assess their current policy management tactics and discover ways to improve these processes.

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What is policy management and why is it important?

Policies are a statement of an organization’s principles and standards that serve to guide decision making, while procedures are instructions regarding how to go about following these guidelines. Used together, they help employees understand expectations and how to properly respond to situations. This creates cohesion to help ensure an organization’s goals are met. Policy management is a system of tools and processes used to administer policies and procedures across an organization. This includes creating policies, organizing where they are stored and accessed, and making sure employees are aware of new policies as well as changes to existing policies. When managed properly, policies administrators can feel at ease knowing that policies are easily accessible and properly communicated to the right people. They can also be sure there is proof of development and communication when it comes time for an audit.

Why is policy management so challenging?

On the surface, policy management looks easy. After all, policies and procedures are just written documents that provide guidance and instructions. However, as an organization grows and more policies are created and revised, one quickly learns how hard it can be to keep things organized and manage communication regarding changes. Some of the challenges that policy managers face include:

  1. File Management
    Managing many documents can become challenging very quickly. Paper files can get lost or damaged, and electronic files can easily become mislabeled, misfiled, or accidentally deleted. It is often difficult to a find a file when you need it, and hard to know how the file has changed over time or which file is the latest version. Plus, policies and procedures often come with supporting documents that also require proper management and accessibility.
  2. Collaboration
    Most policies and procedures are not created by a single individual. Confusion quickly ensues when multiple people are sharing and working on the same file. Files are often shared via email, making it extremely difficult to know which file is the correct version and what does and does not have consensus or approval.
  3. Security
    Controlling who has access to files and the authority to make changes is crucial, especially in industries where regulatory compliance is required. Paper files, as well as electronic files stored on shared severs, are vulnerable to unauthorized access or accidental data loss. Plus, there is no record of who has accessed the file or made changes.
  4. Communication
    When policies and procedures are published or changed, it can be challenging to ensure that the necessary people are informed. Emails and spreadsheets are often used to notify and track acknowledgement. Emails can be lost or unread, and there’s no way to know for sure that everyone is up to date with the new information unless you track them manually. Tracking acknowledgement is therefor time consuming and uncertain.
  5. Reporting and audits
    In regulated industries, where audits are regularly performed, it is necessary to have objective evidence to show when policies were introduced and how they were acknowledged. Using ad-hoc methods, such as emails and spreadsheets, will not provide solid evidence. Without a quick and simple way to view reports that provide digital traceability (such as logs and timestamps), audits can become a nightmare for you as well as an auditor.

How does your policy management stack up?

Take our Policy Management Assessment below and find out!

Everyone knows that policy management is challenging, but there are tools and methods that can make this challenge less daunting. Take our policy management assessment to get recommendations on ways to improve how you prepare, distribute, and track your policies and procedures. By answering a few short questions, you will get immediate feedback on how you can save time and effort to ensure your policy management practices are under control.

Moving away from paper is the first step towards improving policy and procedure management. Files are less likely to become lost or misfiled, and you’ll be able to differentiate versions. You’ll gain the ability to quickly search and track files over their lifecycle. Plus, your files will be better protected in the case of a disaster such as a fire or flood.
Shared folders have the benefit of being electronic, but there are still ways to improve organization and security. By moving from a shared folder system to a dedicated software system, you gain the ability to track file history and versions in an automated manner. Shared folders lack the centralized control, handling, and distribution that a centralized software system offers.
Using software to manage policies and procedures is ideal. When evaluating systems, consider how well the software organizes information, provides security, tracks revisions and approvals, distributes updates to staff, and records that people have read and understand. Also look for an option where people can easily access published files on their own. Finally, choose a system that provides reporting, so auditors have the information they need to validate compliance.
Moving away from ad-hoc versioning, such as appending a date or number to a file, can help reduce errors and inconsistencies when changes are tracked. Look for a file management system that incorporates revision control and eliminates the guesswork when naming and organizing versions. This will provide the added benefits of an audit trail showing how documents have changed over time.
You can save a great deal of time and frustration by moving away from spreadsheets to log and record changes and sign-offs. An automated software system eliminates the manual task work and provides auditors with traceability and objective evidence.
While there are many forms of version control available, when it comes to managing policies it’s important to look for a system that that offers both versioning (a file has changed) and revision level (a new final version is published). Having both versions and revisions makes it easier to identify versions in development versus revisions that have been completed and published.
One of the best ways to reduce the time spent tracking who has read a document is to move away from collecting physical signatures and using sign-off sheets. Moving to a software system will automate this process, while also providing a digital record that helps auditors confirm that action was taken.
You can save a great deal of time and effort by moving away from saving and tracking email confirmations. When recorded confirmations are saved in a centralized software system, there are no emails to track and everything is available in a centralized, digitally verified record. This makes it easy to find and report on later for auditing purposes.
Save yourself the hassle of manually tracking who has read and acknowledged a document by switching from spreadsheets to an automated software system. Automated systems save time and remove any possible doubt by electronically capturing a record.
It’s important to track acknowledgement in order validate and confirm for auditors that your program is in compliance. Move to a centralized, automated system in order to feel at ease when auditors arrive.
Talking to co-workers can be nice, but it can also be a distraction if you’re constantly being asked for documents. Consider publishing policies so that staff have a self-service way to find and reference files.  Making policies more accessible will save everyone time and increase productivity and conformance.
A shared network location for completed policies gives everyone easy access but it lacks the control and organizational benefits that a centralized software system offers. With a software system, files are safe from being renamed or deleted, and you have control over who can access the files.
Intranet sites or SharePoint are great places to publish policies, but a dedicated policy management system will provide you with a great deal more flexibility when it comes to file development and tracking who has read them. Consider a system designed to control files as well as publish, and possibly integrate with an existing corporate intranet if necessary.

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