So you wrote a policy—now what? Policies are only effective if you can show that they have been communicated and understood. Having a written policy that nobody knows about is just like having no policy at all. You cannot hold people accountable to a policy until you have made them aware of the policy. Unfortunately, many organizations have scattered approaches to publish and communicate policies.

I am on a mission to refocus organizations on how they approach policy management and communication. Not only are businesses failing in consistent and effective policy development and management, they are also behind the times in how they can communicate policies.

The written policy will always be critical as it defines what is allowed and disallowed explicitly in writing. The difficulty is that the written policy document, while necessary, is no longer good enough. We work and live in a YouTube world. Video and interactive content has become critical to every function of the world around us. Much to my disappointment people do not read as much as they used to. This is complicated by the fact that organizations have employees with varying learning levels and abilities. One of my own sons has struggled with dyslexia throughout his childhood; a hard worker but struggles to read.

Question to ponder: How do we ‘effectively’ communicate policies in a world where video and interactive content has become the preference of individuals? In other words, how do we communicate policies to a generation of workers that has been raised on YouTube and interactive content?

We have to make sure policies are communicated and understood. This requires that certain policies have training and interactive learning to ensure individuals understand. Survey and testing is an integral part of training to validate that policies are understood. Other mechanisms for communication involve comedy, e-mail reminders, mention at company meetings, policy-related learning activities, and other media. Policies do not have to be boring written documents—they can be written actively and use interactive learning to engage the audience. Even a written document itself can be engaging to read. Proof point: go out and Google for Google’s Code of Conduct, well written and engaging. Combine this with interactive learning to deliver the message and you have a powerful mechanism to guide behavior in the organization.

Effective policy communication requires that the organization has an ability to communicate and train individuals on policies that is easy to use and accessible. This includes the capabilities where:

  1. Any employee (across geographies and abilities) is able to log into a centralized policy system and be able to find all of the policies that relate to their role in the organization.
  2. Policies are written clearly in a consistent template and style that reflects the culture and tone of the organization and in a way that the average reader can understand (use active voice, remove cluttered language, 8th grade reading level).
  3. Clearly communicate tasks for training or acceptance of policy and it should be apparent how to ask for clarification on policy if the individual has questions.
  4. Critical policies are to have a video or interactive component in which the policy is explained to the individual. The goal is to leverage interactive content to engage the employee on how to comply with the policy.

A closing comment: Effective policy communication is a critical component of a strong compliance program. In the Morgan Stanley bribery incident, the U.S. Department of Justice stated that Morgan Stanley had a strong compliance program and was not pursuing further action against the company itself. Part of what Morgan Stanley was able to demonstrate was how often policies and training were completed by employees.

My point is simple—we need the written document, but we also need to make sure people understand it. Let’s not make this a burden for employees. Write clear policies that are accessible and easy to read, and provide the relevant training and interaction to make sure they are understood.

Download the latest GRC Policy Illustration and Roundtable on this topic.

There is an upcoming webinar on this topic this week on October 25th:

This fourth installment in the Policy Management webinar series addresses best practices for distributing policies and determining when and how to provide training.  We often think that once a policy has been formally issued the job is done, but that is far from the truth.  Properly communicating about the availability of the policy is only the start.  Join our panel of experts for a roundtable discussion of the challenges, best practices, and benefits of a well thought out policy communication plan.


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