After exploring Where Third-Party Risk Management Fails and Where Risk Management Fails, I now turn my attention to my biggest soapbox, Where Policy Management Fails . . .

First it is essential to understand that policies are critically important to governance, risk management, and compliance. Through policies organizations can have reliable processes, transactions, and behavior so it can reliably achieve objectives [governance]. Policies are risk documents, the very fact that there is a policy means there is uncertainty/risk that needs to be governed and controlled [risk management]. Through policies, and their adherence, the organization maintains integrity to its values, ethics, conduct, ESG commitments, regulatory commitments, and contractual commitments [compliance].

HOWEVER, policies also set a legal duty of care and liability on the organization. A policy that is not followed can be used against the organization in a civil, criminal, and/or regulatory matter. What is shocking is how badly policies are managed in the organization given their critical nature to enable the organization to reliably achieve objectives, address uncertainty, and act with integrity. 

I teach Policy Management by Design workshops around the world and have a variety of research papers on policy management. I have also partnered with OCEG in developing and the Certified Policy Management Professional certification. Here is where I see policy management fails in many organizations . . .

  • Not knowing what policies the organization has. Policies often are scattered across departments and many organizations do not even know what policies are out there. I was keynoting at a conference and asked a few hundred people in the room who has a master list of all their official policies, only two people raised their hands.
  • Policies scattered on different portals. Too often the organization does not have a singular portal for policies. One insurance company came to me moving into pandemic lockdowns in March of 2020 in a panic as they discovered they had 27 different policy portals from policy file shares to SharePoint sites, to commercial software. It was a maze of confusion and there was no singular point for employees to access policies.
  • Different writing styles and processes. Organizations often do not have a consistent template and writing style for policies, not a standard process to write and approve policies. Basically, they do not have a Policy on Writing Policies (also called a Metapolicy) nor a style guide on how to write policies in consistent grammar, use of active voice, punctuation, formatting, and how to approach gender neutral language. 
  • No standard template for a policy. Yes, I brought this out in the previous point, but it deserves to be mentioned again. Anyone should be able to recognize a policy by the template/formatting of the document (digitally or in print). It should be easily recognizable as an official policy.
  • Not addressing rogue policies. This is a HUGE issue. Too often managers across the organization are opening word processors and writing documents and calling them policies. They communicate this to employees, customers, and partners. Policies, as stated, establish a legal duty of care. If a manager is writing a document and calling it a policy, it exposes the organization to legal liability if it is not followed. 
  • Out of date policies. Organizations struggle with the number of policies that exist indefinitely and are not updated, lack an owner, and are no longer needed . . . or desperately need revision. 
  • Not keeping up with legal, regulatory, and business change. There is a variety of legal, regulatory, risk, and even business change that impacts policies. One bank had a policy that was being revised because of a regulatory change that went through 75 reviewers in a linear fashion of document check in and check out and took six months to get updated. In an industry where there are 257 regulatory change events every day this certainly is not agile and behind the game. Another organization, this one in healthcare, discovered they had 21,000 policy and procedure documents because of all the consolidation and acquisition of hospitals over a few decades. 
  • Not keeping up with employee change. Employees come into the organization, they change roles and departments, they leave the organization. Organizations need to ensure that employees are aware of the policies that apply to their role as they move to different functions and roles, particularly high-risk areas. 
  • Lack of audit trail and system of record. This is another HUGE issue. The legal and regulatory environment demand that the organization have a clear defensible history of what policies were communicated to employees, did they understand it, were they trained, how they were reminded. Look at the latest U.S. Department of Justice Evaluation of Compliance Programs where it focuses on the audit trail and system of record of the policy portal and employee interactions. Having a defensible audit trail on policies and awareness gets the organization out of hot water, ask Morgan Stanley.
  • Outdated policy portals and training. Every month I am getting inquiries from organizations looking for that next generation policy portal that brings together policies and training into one portal. Think about it, employees go out to Facebook and can watch a YouTube video in Facebook. They do not have to click on a link and go out to YouTube and come back to Facebook to comment on it. The same thing NEEDS to happen with the policy portal that brings policies and training on policies into one portal. Millennials and Gen Z expect this. And, mobility access to policies and training is also critical. 

As you can see, this is a soapbox of mine. I am passionate about policies and policy management. They are critical to the organization. Without policies, and policies that are adhered to and enforced, the organization’s behavior is like leaves blowing in the wind. Can you imagine an organization with no policies? What a mess of transactions and behavior. I am literally scratching the surface on all the areas of where policy management fails today. 

Organizations need to address the back-office of policy management, and the front-office of policy engagement . . .

  • Back-office policy management. This is the enterprise-wide consistent process to write, approve, monitor, enforce, manage, maintain, and audit policies in the organization. They key here is collaborative authoring and cooperation across departments supported by strong technology in this space to ensure nothing slips through the cracks and adheres to the Policy on Writing Policies.
  • Front-office policy engagement. This is the portal, training, awareness, and engagement to employees (and third parties) on policies. There should be a singular portal for all the official policies of the organization. Employees should have regular reminders and are properly aware and trained on policies that impact their role/function in the organization.

There are a variety of solutions for policy management in the market. Some focus on certain departments (e.g., EH&S, information security, privacy, HR), others focus on specific industries (e.g., healthcare, banking), and others are broad. Some solutions focus on back-office policy management, others excel in front-office policy engagement. Few do both well. 

Ask GRC 20/20 about our market research and coverage of policy management best practices and the range solutions in the market and what differentiates them and fits your particular need . . . 

Also, register for one of these upcoming webinars on Effective Policy Management . . .

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