Policy Manual Getting Started. How to Write a Policy Manual?
In this article we will continue our series of How to Write a Policy Manual?
- Chapter 1: Why Develop a Policy Manual
- Chapter 2: Getting Started
- Chapter 3: Writing Policies and the Approval Process
- Chapter 4: Distributing New Policies
What is a Policy?
Writing policies that are effective, enforceable, and accepted by management and employees is difficult. To develop good policies that enhance rather than hinder the chances of achieving organizational objectives, it helps to understand exactly what a policy is and how it relates to such concepts as mission, objectives and procedures.
A policy is a predetermined course of action established as a guide toward accepted objectives and strategies of the organization. Consider this excerpt from a policy development book:
A vision is formulated, business processes are analyzed, and policy and procedure systems to support the vision are born. As policies and procedures are written, approved, published, and implemented, the company’s vision is articulated.
A first step in writing policies is agreeing on what a policy is and how it differs from a procedure. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but they are a bit different. Simply stated, a policy lays out what management wants employees to do, and a procedure describes how it should be done.3 Procedures describe exactly how to carry out the policy and contain much more detail.
The Connection between Mission and Policy
Without policies boundaries and baselines related to the company’s missions and objectives would not exist. When developing your policies, you should start with your mission and objectives. A mission statement should be a clear statement about who your company is trying to serve. It should be a cultural reflection of the values, beliefs,
and philosophy of the organization.4 It should be very brief and very
clear so that everyone in the organization can understand it and so that objectives are seen clearly as steps to achieving the mission.
Here’s the mission statement for Southwest Airlines:
Southwest Airlines Company is the nation’s low-fare, high customer satisfaction airline. We primarily serve short-haul city pairs, providing single-class air transportation, which targets the business commuter as well as leisure travelers.
From a well written mission statement objectives can be set and from objectives, policies can be created. Just as a mission or vision for your organization is a prerequisite to policy development, so too are strategic objectives. Objectives are like goals; they direct the staff’s attention to important factors in running the organization and help define unique ways to enhance performance of individuals and the organization as a whole. Therefore, objectives should reflect the critical success factors of the company. Those factors could include dimensions such as employees, customers, quality, financial performance, operation, products, and marketing. The table below may help you think about the objectives of your company along similar dimensions:
As diagram 2.1 shows, policies should be developed in light of the objectives set by management. If objectives are the way the mission of the company gets carried out, then the policies (and the
procedures they spawn) help assure that objectives are met each and every day the organization exists. Policies will drive the development of any needed procedures.
Many people think of organization policies in a negative light: as a means to control employee behavior. However, there is a more positive side to policies. They can actually empower employees. It is true that many policies seem restrictive in nature and many need to be to promote good internal control however, policies also provide staff with a degree of freedom within defined boundaries. With good policies in place, staff is able to execute their duties; they are free to act within the limits set by policy; without constant managerial oversight. In that way, policies empower staff to do the right thing.
How to Start Creating Your Policy Manual
Content creation takes some research involving a great deal of information gathering. Policies initially are derived from an understanding of core business practices. They also may emanate from a need to control operations and therefore a good understanding of how the business functions is necessary as a first step in developing good polices.
Whether you are updated an old set of policies or creating new policies, be sure that a valid need exists for each policy. Ensure that the issue is not already adequately addressed elsewhere in existing policies. If the company already has a building access policy, for example, is a separate contractor access policy really needed? The answer to this question will be decided by the company culture, operational requirements, and the scope of existing policies. Perhaps a simple addition to an existing policy will fill the void.
In essence, policy creation is a form of research. Research is an ongoing aspect of keeping polices up-to-date and maintaining a comprehensive policy manual. The policy manual should be a “living document” – very much dynamic – subject to change.
Existing policies need to be expanded, supplemented, and revised as business conditions change, as business process re-engineering takes place, as an organization downsizes, and as quality improvement initiatives are implemented.
Getting started from scratch on a policy manual is the biggest challenge. Therefore the main approach is to organize policies using the following categories:
These are the policies that guide hiring practices, orientation of new employees, compliance with employment laws, and confidentiality.
Employment Status & Records
These are the policies that define such issues as employment classifications, access to personnel files and guidance on how background checks and performance reviews are to be performed.
These are policies that explain employee benefits such as insurance, vacations, holidays, leave, and employee reimbursements.
These are policies that are related to salary and wage administration including deductions, pay advances, and time keeping.
These policies are quite varied and their purpose range from defining certain work arrangements such as flex time and telecommuting to offering guidelines on the use of company assets and record retention.
These policies are guidelines that control employer behavior and conduct on the job. The mainstay of this section is a code of conduct but also important are policies regarding substance abuse, smoking, harassment, and workplace violence.
These policies guide staff in the use of the organization’s information technology. Policies defining acceptable and prohibited activities and use of e-mail and the Internet make up a majority of these policies.
Organization Culture and Policies
Although templates can give you a head start on policy development, other factors must be considered as you write your polices. One factor is your organization’s culture. Organizational attitudes toward policies span the spectrum. On one end of the scale are companies that have a policy for everything. Banking is a lot like that. U.S.
Banks are still (despite banking deregulation efforts during the 1980s) highly regulated entities and policies are needed to control all aspects of operations. At the other end of the spectrum are companies that only have only a few policies (only those required by the laws that are relevant to that company). Most companies fall somewhere in
between these two extremes. The manager writing any policy needs to understand where on the spectrum the company falls and how the policy can be made to fit the organization’s culture to enhance compliance.
Get Support from Staff
Enhancing compliance to policies also begins with staff participation. One lesson learned by the vast number of organizations that have gone through process re engineering is that new policies are more readily adopted and followed by the staff when the staff has had some significant role in their development.
Employees and managers at all levels will be most likely to support a policy that makes sense, is easy to follow, and minimizes interference with getting the job done. The best way to get such a policy is to have all affected parties involved in the development process. Not allowing participation at the policy creation stage is a frequent downfall of implementation and compliance.
Support can also be enhanced if the policy’s impact on the company is clearly explained; the impact that will be most meaningful to managers is the financial loss that can result from failing to implement the policy. The ideal situation is when management and staff can see how a particular policy helps promote the achievement of organizational objectives and mission.
The Role of Procedures and Forms
Many people confuse procedure with policy. A policy is a predetermined course of action established as a guide toward accepted objectives and strategies of the organization. It is at a much higher level than a procedure. Procedures are methods – they are ways of carrying out a policy. Forms may be part of a procedure; in other words, to carry out a procedure it may be necessary to complete one or more forms. For example, your organization may have a policy that every employee who is terminated or who decides to leave the organization participates in an exit interview. Procedures can be developed on how that interview should be conducted while a form or checklist can help assure and document that a particular exit interview was carried out according to policies and procedures.
The connection of policy-to-procedure-to-form raises another important point: policy development needs to be coordinated with procedures and forms management. New policies or revisions to old policies may spawn new procedures. New procedures may require revision of old forms or the creation of new ones.
Source: OfficeReady Policy Manual
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