Writing a policy document
Stephen Bounds — Thu, 22/01/2009 - 08:51
Policy documents and strategy documents actually have a lot in common. They both express a desired state of the organisation.
However, where a strategy document recognises that an organisation's current state does not match the desired state and needs to be changed, a policy document expresses the desired state in terms of the status quo.
That is, the assumption is that the policy can be executed by the organisation in its current form. Managers are expected to understand organisational policies and to implement these and/or supervise their employees in a way which enables compliance with policy requirements.
However, the structural form of a policy and strategy documents are quite similar. Typically, a policy document consists of:
6. Related Documents
Expanding on these ideas a bit further:
- Context is typically boilerplate text that explains the nature of the organisation and its overall strategic direction. This is often included in the organisation's policy template document. For example, "Joe's Garage (founded 1975) is dedicated to providing high-quality workmanship for all of its vehicle maintenance services."
- Purpose explains the business objectives of writing and enforcing this policy, eg "This policy aims to implement a just-in-time spare parts inventory system at Joe's."
- Benefits outlines the benefits of realising the policy, eg "The JIT system will reduce administrative costs and expenditure on unused parts that cannot be returned to the manufacturer."
- Principles provide business-level guidelines in the form of testable propositions. When a manager wants to implement a new initiative to streamline procedures, they should be able to check against each principle for a policy and quickly determine whether their new procedures are compatible. For example, "Principles: (1) only order spare parts when a customer's car is booked for that service; (2) if customer reports a fault and there are several possible fixes, only order parts from a supplier that provides a 14-day return guarantee."
- Responsibilities outlines who is responsible for what. Assignments should be made on the basis of Functional Role, not by staff name.
- Related documents should list all related policy documents, and any procedures manual being used for implementation.
It is important to remember that a policy is not a procedure! Policies outlines business direction, but not the specifics of implementation.
The key test of policies vs procedures is: "Will this document only need updating when our organisational structure, goals or objectives change?" If the answer is yes, you have successfully written a policy.
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