Providing Consistent Policies Through a Style and Language Guide

 

I have stated it before and I will state it again: the typical organization is a mess when it comes to managing policies and procedures. Organization size does not matter – I have seen small to large organizations that have horrible policy management practices. Policies are scattered across the business, reside in a variety of formats ranging from printed documents to Intranet sites, are out of date, not integrated into other GRC processes such as investigations or risk management, and are poorly written.

Policies articulate culture, they establish a duty of care, define expectations for behavior (for individuals, processes, and business relationships), and establish how the organization is going to comply with regulatory and contractual requirements. Policies are an integral part of corporate governance, enterprise risk, and compliance management. They support a range of other GRC processes: corporate social responsibility, legal, human resources, business operations, security, environmental, health & safety, quality . . . .

A significant short coming in policy management is the failure to define a style guide. A style guide for policies defines standardized:

 

  • Taxonomy. Policies are to have a logical relationship to each other following a hierarchical categorization taxonomy – this is usually done through a numbering system mapped to policy areas across the business.

 

  • Format. Policies are to have a consistent look and feel. Anyone should be able to see a policy and recognize that it is a corporate policy without reading the document.
  • Structure. Related to format, policies are to have a consistent structured arrangement of the headings/sections.
  • Language. Policies are to have consistent language. Good policies are easy to read and written in the active voice. This includes paragraph, sentence, punctuation, and word guidance for policies.
  • Definitions. Policies are consistent in how they use words. Terms used in policies are to be used consistently across the organization with a common understanding of what they mean.
  • Process. Policies are to be written and revised following a standardized process. The style guide should outline roles and responsibilities for writing, editing, and approving policies.

Leading organizations are establishing a policy manager responsible for the style guide and consistency of policies. One major brand, who attended my Effective Policy Management & Communication Workshop, has established the role of “Internal Policy Manager.” This person is responsible for managing the development and maintenance of all policies to assure their consistency and relevance to the organization. This role does not own or write policies. In fact, this role has only written one policy – the policy on how to write a policy (in other words a style guide).

BOTTOM LINE: Policy writing that is wordy and confusing is damaging to the corporate image and costs time and money. Every organization should have a policy style guide in place to provide for clear and consistent policies. Leveraging a style guide increases effectiveness.
Good policy writing:

  • Articulates corporate culture
  • Demonstrates professionalism in the organization
  • Shows the organizations cares
  • Avoids expensive misunderstandings
  • Provides consistency across the organization

This provides a quick summary view of the need and implementation of a style guide for policies. Over the next several weeks we will dive into specific portions of Effective Policy Management & Communication, including:

 

  • Policy writing best practices
  • What is the right number of policies?
  • Establishing policy ownership and accountability
  • Communicating policies across extended business relationships
  • Tracking policies attestation and delivering effective training
  • Managing policy incidents and exceptions
  • Monitoring metrics to establish effectiveness and/or issues with policies
  • Relating policy management to risk, issue/case, and other GRC areas
  • Using technology to manage and communicate policies

Previous blogs on this topic are:

 

In addition to this series on policy management, Corporate Integrity is also offering a full-day workshop on the topic of Effective Policy Management and Communication.

I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and approaches to effective policy management. Please comment on my blog or send me an e-mail

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply