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By Stephen Page
Okay, you are new to writing policies and procedures and you do not know where to start writing or find content for your policies and procedures. So you think: I will search out sample policy and procedure documents and use them as my own and/or modify them as needed to fit my needs. How simple is that? Unfortunately, the plethora of websites on this topic suggests that many people are looking for the easy way out. And in this case, the easy way out is the not the best solution for the policies and procedures writer.
While the use of samples seems like a simple approach, it has significant pitfalls with few benefits and the wrong use of the samples could lead to the policy and procedure system not being used and quickly turning to dust on a shelf or lost on a hard drive.
Do Not Make this Serious Mistake
The most serious mistake to make is to use the sample content as your own and NOT involve the users of the processes involved in the policy or procedure. Many policy and procedure systems have failed because the writers did not involve the users in the development of the policy and procedure system. Even if management has the authority to require users to follow a policy or procedure, the likelihood of success is extremely low without the involvement of the users in the policy and procedure development process. Trust me when I ask you not to make this mistake as it has consequences.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds of websites on the Internet selling sample policies and procedures and even complete policy and procedure manuals. The only time the purchase of complete manuals might make sense is when the topic is regulated by government regulations. But take heed. If you buy a complete manual on accounting or human resources, you still must involve your users in the writing and implementation of your policies and procedures. While these manuals might help you keep up with the latest regulations and requirements imposed by the government, the users still must be involved in the writing of the policy or procedure draft, in the laying out the logical flow of the processes involved, and in the distribution and implementation of the policies and procedures. What is worse is that you do not know if the material you are buying is current.
My philosophy is that you are always current if you do first-hand research and involve your users in the development of policies and procedures.
The pitfalls of using sample policies and procedures are:
- The content and/or process flows cannot possibly represent the users, the culture, the environment, or the technology of the company and therefore, there is no way to assure buy-in of the information contained within your policies and procedures unless you have followed through the basic phases of policy and procedure writing.
- The writing style will be different from the style of writing (the words, the phrases, the jargon) currently used in your policy and procedure documents.
- The writing format will be different from the format of writing that has been adopted by your company.
- The jargon, abbreviations, and acronyms are likely to be different than those recognized at your company.
Benefits of using sample policy and procedure documents
- You might find ideas that you may not have thought about.
- You might be able to derive new or modified interview questions to pose to your users to further the details required in your policy and procedure system.
- You might increase your knowledge if new jargon, abbreviations, or acronyms are referenced.
When to use sample policy and procedure documents
- The best time to consider using sample policy and procedure documents is during the research phase of writing policies and procedures because this is the time you are seeking out information to discuss with your users. The role of the policy and procedure writer is to guide the users to the right conclusion and produce a policy and procedure draft acceptable to users and management. The more information you have at your fingertips, the quicker you will be able to reach that conclusion and hence, the time to complete the policy or procedure document will be shorter. FYI: Typical phases in a policy or procedure system include research, writing, reviewing, approving, publishing, distributing, communicating, training, improving, and revising.
- The next best time to consider sample policy and procedure documents is during the IMPROVING PHASE because if missing points are discovered, you can consider discussing the insertion of these new ideas into the revision of the policy or procedure document with the users of the processes.
Never use the sample policy and procedure documents as your own. And never make minor modifications, slap on your company logo, and distribute anything that remotely resembles the sample documents. Not only is this possible plagiarism, but your users are very unlikely to follow the intent of the policy or procedure documents because they did not have a say during the research or review phases of writing policies and procedures.
There is one case where this statement is simply not true: If the policy or procedure relates to compensation or benefits, the users will be jumping at the opportunity to read and follow every word of the document because the content affects them personally. Note that generally policies and procedures about human resources generally are written by a select few with the human resources department and in this rare case, the users are not questioned.
Finding Sample Policy and Procedure Documents
Government agencies, universities, and some consulting firms publish sample policies and procedures on the Internet for everyone to see, if you can find them. Government agencies and universities are required by law to publish policies and procedures on the Internet. Perhaps the best sources, if you can find your way around the websites, are State (U.S.) websites that use a format of http://www .state.xx.us/ where “xx” represents the state’s two-letter abbreviation. Go the websites of big states like NY, CA, or MA and search out policies and procedures. Another equally good place to search for websites are public universities like MIT, Stanford, or UCLA.
I have deliberately left out the obvious source of FELLOW POLICY AND PROCEDURE WRITERS because private and public companies often consider their policies and procedures as proprietary and their management does not permit them to share company documents with anyone outside of the company. In some cases, you might be able to convince a friend to let you peak at a policy or procedure, but this is probably a rare occurrence.
Write your policy and procedure documents based on a careful and thorough interview process with your users that support or are supported by the policy or procedure. Use sample policy and procedures with caution and only use them along with the research required to produce a successful, effective policy or procedure document that has the buy-in of those that assisted you with the creation of the policy or procedure document.
Trust me, your policies and procedures will gather dust or become lost on a hard drive without the proper buy-in.
Stephen B. Page is an expert in the field of policies and procedures. His credentials include an MBA from UCLA, Certified Records Manager, Project Management Professional, Certified Forms Consultant, and Certified Software Quality Engineer. He is the author of four books on policies and procedures (http://www.companymanuals.com). He is currently writing a new book that will be published in mid-2008 on policies and procedures.
Stephen has worked for such companies as Eastman Kodak, Boeing Aircraft, Litton Industries, Nationwide Insurance, and TransUnion. He has worked in multiple industries including banking, retail, manufacturing, general consulting, financial services, software development, aerospace, and several governmental agencies.
Stephen has led or participated on teams for the Malcolm Baldrige Award, Value Engineering, Six Sigma, ISO 9000 Quality Standards, CMM and CMMI, and Total Quality Management. He has written more than 6000 policies and procedures and has designed more than 3000 forms. He has won two national forms contests.