Policies are a critical component of a GRC strategy – but often the most overlooked or neglected component. It amazes me the number of companies I go into that have complete disarray and chaos in their approach to managing corporate policies and procedures.

Simply put – organizations cannot ignore policy management. Consider that:

  • Policies establish the culture, value, ethics, and tone of the organization.
  • Policies establish boundaries for risk taking.
  • Policies define how the organization complies with regulations and requirements.

Mismanagement of policies and procedures can introduce liability to the organization as a policy or procedure can establish a duty of care. Improper policy management can be used by regulators, prosecuting/plaintiff attorneys, and others to place culpability on an organization.

The typical organization suffers with ineffective policies, management, and communication. The typical organization has:

  • Policies scattered across dozens of places. The typical organization has numerous portals and binders in which policies are published. There is no single authoritative source where all policies and procedures are consolidated, maintained, and managed. There is no place where an individual can see all the policies that apply to their specific role in the organization.
  • Policies bound by paper. The typical organization still suffers with having numerous printed policy manuals and has not fully embraced online publishing and access to policies and procedures.
  • Policies grossly out of date. The typical organization has policies that are published at some point and time and not reviewed on a regular basis. In fact, I regularly encounter organizations that have policies that have not been reviewed in years for applicability, appropriateness, and effectiveness.
  • Policies that lack an owner. The typical organization has numerous policies and procedures that lack an owner that is responsible for managing them and keeping them current.
  • Policies that lack any lifecycle management. The typical organization has an ad hoc approach to writing, approving, and maintaining policies with no defined system for managing the workflow, tasks, versions, and approval process.
  • Policies that do not map to exceptions or incidents. The typical organization finds that it has no established system to document and manage exceptions to policies. Further, there is a lack of a system to map incidents, issues, and investigations to policies – this helps to understand where policies are breaking down and need to be addressed.
  • Policies lack adherence to a consistent style guide. The typical organization has policies scattered across the organization with no through to the consistency, style, and template as to how they are written. The language and format of policies vary significantly within organization policies and procedures.

These issues are further compounded when organizations approach technology for policy management in an ad hoc manner and begin publishing policies through various content management systems (e.g., SharePoint sites) with no process to manage consolidate, manage, and keep policies consistent.

In summary, organizations are in a complete disarray in managing corporate policies and procedures – policies are out-dated, scattered across parts of the business, and not managed consistently. The recent trend in legislation and regulatory guidance is to demonstrate training and not just attestation. Policies establish the culture, values, ethics, and duties of the corporation and its agents. Organizations that take an ad hoc approach to managing and communicating policies face significant risk to their business.

When the organization is under the microscope – having a detailed trail of what policy was in effect, how it was communicated, who read it, who was trained on it, who attested to it, what exceptions were granted, what other incidents violated the policies all can provide grounds for defending the organizations. An ad hoc ‘dust in the wind’ approach to policy management may very well expose the organization to significant liability.

To consistently manage and communicate policies organizations are turning toward defined processes, workflow, and technologies to manage the lifecycle of policies. The policy management lifecycle involves several stages from definition, approval, communication, awareness, training, attestation, maintenance, and archiving. This is supported by a technology infrastructure to manage the content and process of policy management.

In the generation of Web 2.0 and YouTube it is no longer enough to simply make policies available, organizations need to deliver training and establish that individuals understand policies and procedures. Delivering interactive policy training modules has become just as important as presenting a written policy and tracking attestations.

Over the next several weeks we will look at Effective Policy Management and Communication. We will specifically explore:

  • Defining a process lifecycle for managing policies
  • Establishing policy ownership and accountability
  • Providing consistency in policies through consistent style and language
  • Communicating policies across extended business relationships
  • Tracking policies attestation and delivering effective training
  • 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

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.

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