Improving Policies Through Metrics

Thank you for joining me on this journey through Effective Policy Management. Today we come full circle and bring the effective policy management process to closure.

Let’s review where we have been. The first illustration and roundtable introduced the topic of why policies matter and my Effective Policy Management Lifecycle. Each illustration after that took us through the stages of the lifecycle:

  1. Tracking Change That Impacts Policy
  2. Policy Development and Approval
  3. Policy Communication and Training
  4. Policy Implementation and Enforcement

And now we turn our focus on to the final stage: 5—Policy Measurement and Evaluation.

It is unfortunate that many policies are written and then left to slowly rot over time. What was a good policy five years ago may not be the right policy today. Those out-of-date but still existent policies can expose the organization to risk if they are not enforced and complied with in the organization.

Effective policy management requires that the policy lifecycle have a regular maintenance schedule. My recommendation is that every policy goes through an annual review process to determine if the policy is still an appropriate policy for the organization. Some organizations rank their policies on different risk levels that tie into periodic review cycles—some annually, others every other year, and others every three years. In my opinion, best practice is for every policy to undergo an annual review.

A system of accountability and workflow facilitates the periodic review process. The policy to be reviewed gets assigned to the policy owner(s) and has a set due date for completion. The decision from this review process will be to retire the policy, keep the policy as it is, or revise the policy to meet the current needs and obligations of the organization.

Policy owners need a thorough understanding of the effectiveness of the policy. This requires the policy owner have access to metrics on the effectiveness of the policy in the environment. Some of the things that the policy owner will want to look at are:

  • Violations. Information from hotline as well as investigation systems to determine how often the policy was violated. The data from these systems indicate why it was violated—lack of awareness, no training, unauthorized exceptions, outright violations.
  • Understanding. Completion of training and awareness programs, policy attestations, and related metrics show policy comprehension. Questions to a helpdesk or compliance department uncover ambiguities in the policy that need to be corrected.
  • Exceptions. Metrics on the number of exceptions that have been granted and the reasons they were granted. Too many exceptions indicate that the policy is inappropriate and unenforceable and needs to be revised.
  • Compliance. At the end of the day the policy needs to be complied with. Any controls that the policy governs and authorizes and the state of those controls is to be reviewed by the policy owner to determine policy effectiveness.
  • Environment. The risk, regulatory, and business environment is in constant change. The policy may have been written to address a state that no longer exists. Changes to the business (e.g., mergers/acquisitions, relationships, strategy), changes to the legal environment (e.g., laws, regulations, enforcement actions), and changes to the external risk environment (e.g., economic, competitive, industry, society, technology) are to be reviewed to determine if the policy needs to change.

When a policy does change it is critical that the organization be able to keep a history of the versions of the policy, when they were effective, and the audit trail of interactions around the policy. The audit train is used to present evidence of effective policy management and communication and includes a defensible history of policy interactions on communications, training, acknowledgments, assessments, and related details needed to show the policy was enforced and operational.

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