How a policy is published out to the organization can make a big difference in how it is received and followed. The most effective policies and procedures are those that are carefully planned, reviewed and implemented. They are created with a clear purpose, written in an unambiguous way, targeted to specific employees, communicated appropriately and monitored for both attestation and adoption. Effective policy implementation encourages employee engagement every step of the way—fostering better communication, transparency and performance.
Studies show that employee engagement can make a dramatic impact on key performance indicators within the organization. For example, a Gallup study found that customer metrics, productivity, sales and profitability were all measurably better in the top versus bottom quartile of engagement. Similarly, the top organizations did better than the bottom when it came to absenteeism, turnover, shrinkage, safety and quality.
It just makes sense that employees perform better when they are engaged with the organization. Those involved with policy and procedure management can directly effect engagement throughout the policy lifecycle. Well constructed policies provide clear boundaries and empower employees to do their jobs. Including target groups in policy development helps make the policies reflect the real-world work environment.
Signs of Effective Policy Implementation
Here are some key indicators that your policy implementation process is working:
- Policies and procedures are read and understood
- Legal challenges can be met with evidence of policy compliance
- Management is confident in risk assessments, based on data
- Gaps in policies and compliance are readily identifiable
- Policies and procedures are reviewed when conditions change or new players join
- Everyone is operating from the same playbook
- Resistance to change is kept to a minimum
Seven Ways to Improve Policy Implementation
No matter how good your process, there is always room for improvement. Here are seven ways to make policy implementation more effective and enable better employee engagement.
- Make sure your policies and procedures are well formulated. Start with a critical review. Make sure that a new policy/procedure is really required. Test for understanding in every dimension. Who will be governed by the policy? Who will enforce it? How will compliance be measured? What incentive or penalty is associated with compliance? How will you measure success? Make sure you really understand the problem addressed and its context. Get the best understanding you can so that you have the best chance of formulating a good policy. Remember that generally less is more. Resist the urge to use big words where small ones will do. Keep the content unambiguous and the consequences of non-compliance clear. Identify related content such as other policies and regulations. All this pre-work will help you define an effective plan for implementing the new policy/procedure.
- Consult with stakeholders and gather feedback. The fewer surprises the better when it comes to policy management. As you define the team that will create, edit and approve the new document, consider widening the feedback loop. Make sure you bring in the right people—those who will be most affected by the new policy and its compliance. Build in a review loop so that they can provide feedback before the policy is finalized. Subject matter experts, management, employee representatives and HR are all potential resources for your review team. Include them in your process to improve the policy content as well as time the distribution. Use them to help win the competition for attention by your target audience.
- Think long and hard about compliance. Every policy and procedure should address a compliance issue or regulation. Be sure you can clearly state that issue. Keep it simple. Then consider what will motivate individuals to comply. Don’t assume what the reaction will be—test it with your stakeholders. This gives you an opportunity to improve the policy before it is in place. Maybe there are ways to make compliance easier or to address the varying motivations within your target audience. Finally, consider how much compliance is good enough. Build your rollout and monitoring plan to match.
- Frame and communicate with purpose. As you are building a policy, consider how you will announce it to your target audience. You have a better chance at achieving compliance when you take the time to plan its release. Framing your policy gives it context, and context leads to understanding. For example, a new policy about electrical hazards may warrant a life-or-death framing, while a policy about water conservation probably does not. Some policies are best communicated through a clear, concise notification while others may require a detailed training series. Formulate your strategy to optimize policy compliance.
- Track who has read and understood the policy. Attestation is a good measure of initial implementation. Require your target audience to acknowledge receipt and attest to their understanding. Use a system to send notifications and track attestation in real time, so that you can identify where follow-up is required. Reminders and escalation can then be part of your process and serve as an audit trail. All of this aids in engagement.
- Test for complete understanding. Surveys and tests are effective tools for predicting compliance and obtaining input on how to improve policies in the future. Deploy tests at the same time as you distribute the policy to ensure that the policy is well understood. Deploy a survey to obtain feedback on the policy and its distribution. You may even want to re-test at a later date to determine if your target audience remembers the policy content.
- Evaluate policy success/failure. Evaluation is fundamental to continuous process improvement. Plan how you will evaluate policy success or failure before you implement. Think about how you will determine if a policy was followed, if it worked as expected and whether there were unintended consequences. Plan to review the implementation to see if it went as planned. You should also allow for the possibility that the policy may prove flawed in some way. While this is something policy managers strive to avoid, it is better to acknowledge and correct a flaw than to allow it to remain. It may be time to revise, replace or remove the policy.
Mind the Gap
Effective policy implementation helps organizations build a bridge between new policy creation and compliance. There is abundant opportunity to engage with employees throughout the policy management process. The greater the dialog the better the chance that policies are a constructive rather than disruptive force. Dialog can tease out subtleties that explain non-compliance, such as information gaps and barriers to enforcement. Engaged employees provide insights that can lead to better performance—and that is something to celebrate.