Regularly reviewing policies and procedures is critical to your business’s success.
Many people tend to think of policies and procedures as inflexible and unchanging, and that once they are created, they are in place for good. It’s basically a ‘set and forget’ mentality.
However, this is a flawed and problematic view of policies and procedures. Effective policy and procedure management requires far more than just creating a manual to sit on a shelf. Policies and procedures should be viewed as living documents which grow and adapt with a company as it grows and adapts to the business climate. While the core elements of policy may stay the same, the details should change with the business and the industry.
Policy review and revision is a crucial part of an effective policy and procedure management plan.
Old and outdated policies can leave your business exposed. These old policies may fail to comply with new laws and regulations, may not address current business practice such as new systems or technology, which can lead to inconsistent and flawed practices.
Regularly reviewing policies and procedures keeps your business up to date with regulations, technology, and industry best practices and ensures that your policies are consistent and effective. Unfortunately, because policy review is often overlooked it tends to only become an issue when there is a workplace incident or policy violation. At this stage it is too late to change or update the policy or procedures, so employers are left to work within the constraints of the current document.
An incident or policy violation can indicate the need for a change, and it is a good idea to do a debrief after an incident to make sure the policy or procedure document had the intended effect. Examine the details of the incident to see if employees carried out the procedures properly. Look to see if there were any gaps in training or employee understanding of the policy.
However, not every policy violation should result in sweeping policy changes. Sometimes it’s an isolated incident, calling for additional training or remediation for the employees involved.
So how often and when should a business review their policies and procedures?
In a perfect world, we would recommend that your policies and procedures are reviewed annually. However, we are realists and understand that you are trying to run a business, manage staff and comply with a multitude of other regulations and business requirements therefore reviewing policies and procedures is not going to rank high on the ‘to do’ list. So, our suggestion would be that policies are reviewed every two years at a minimum.
The best way to proactively tackle policy and procedure review is just to build it into your business calendar. Try to tackle reviewing one policy every second month. This will allow you to achieve 6 policies in a year. If you take the same approach with procedures (review one procedure on the opposite month to the policy review) you will also achieve 6 procedure reviews in a year as well.
Another approach is to address policy and procedure reviews as you experience organisational change. Organisational changes won’t affect every policy, so it allows you to focus your time on a select few that are impacted by the changes on foot. For example, a new business structure probably shouldn’t impact your annual leave policy or your workplace surveillance policy but may change other day-to-day policies and processes. This process can be rather ad hoc so it would be important to monitor when all policies have last been reviewed and ensure that policies don’t miss being reviewed.
Remember, policy review doesn’t always result in policy revision. Sometimes, you may need to make big changes to address new regulations or gaps in policy. Other times, you may just make a few small tweaks. And sometimes, the policy works as-is, with no revisions.
How to update policies and procedures
Once you’ve established a regular policy review schedule and identified policies that need updating, it’s time to get to work on policy revisions.
Here are some best practices for updating policies and procedures:
- Determine who is involved with this policy. Your policy writing team will differ depending on the policy. It could include supervisors who oversee the procedures, managers, HR directors, or executives. Try to gather a diverse group of people from different departments who have a say in that part of the business.
- Once you’ve decided on your team, explain why a change is needed, and what needs to happen.
Specific questions to consider as you undertake the review:
- Is the policy having the desired effect? Sometimes, employees are following the policy and procedure, but it’s not having the desired impact. Every policy should have a clear goal or objective. Over time, this will help you measure whether the policy is effective.
- Are the policies and procedures current and relevant? Make sure your policies and procedures line up with how your current systems and structures actually work. If policies and procedures refer back to old structures or technology, employees are more likely to ignore them or think that they don’t matter.
- If it’s a small change, it may be as simple as recommending the specific changes in language or phrasing. In other cases – especially in the case of changes to laws or regulations – it may be a more involved change process. You may need to gather input from subject matter experts or consultants.
- Document all comments and changes to the policy or procedure. As you consult with your policy writing team, make sure to document all comments, notes, and input from every team member. Often, it’s helpful to appoint one policy owner to gather all the feedback and make the final edits. But you don’t want any essential feedback to slip through the cracks.
- Every policy needs to be approved. This should be someone at an executive level within the business. Once you have a final policy draft, send it to the approver along with the reasons and research for the changes. If this person has not been involved in the policy or procedure review and revision process, including some of the background and reasoning behind the changes can help them see why it’s necessary to update the policy or procedure.
- Finally, distribution of the new document to employees. Not only should the new/updated policy or procedure be distributed to employees, but employees should be educated on the new requirements, and sign-off to acknowledge they have read and understood the document. This part of the process may become critical at a later stage when employers want to rely on the document to manage or discipline employees.
- If the policy change is extensive enough, you may want to consider conducting training on the new processes to ensure employees understand the new policies and procedures.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of reviewing policies and procedures. Keeping your policies and procedures updated helps minimise risks, increase operational excellence, and ensure your employees have the information to do their jobs well.