There are over four-thousand institutions of higher learning in the US and probably as many approaches to managing policy and compliance. Colleges and universities are celebrated for their long-standing traditions, unique governing structure and protected environment. But today’s reality of instant news and vocal constituencies has pushed colleges and universities to make changes. One critical change is in how these institutions produce, align and manage policy and procedures.
Reactive Approach to Policy and Procedures No Longer Works
The mantra in home security businesses is that most people order a security system the day after a break-in occurs. This kind of tardy ‘closing of the barn door’ also happens after a serious incident at a college or university. First come expressions of outrage and regret. Then comes a pledge to review current policy so that the event never happens again. By that time, the damage is done and the fix often leaves an opening for new problems.
Dramatic social and technology changes have swept through higher education. Topics like sex, race, alcohol, drugs, income equality, and social justice created waves of change that still challenge many universities. Like surf rider, university administrators must be able to both anticipate waves and quickly react to them to be successful.
The spirit of shared governance pervasive in higher education has also challenged compliance and policy managers. The more people involved in policy decisions, the greater the requirement for strict policy management and control systems. Witness the recent headlines on binge drinking, sexual assault, special treatment for athletes and ambiguous admission policies for children of lawmakers, athletes, donors and other influential players. When these situations are exposed, so is the lack of proactive policy management and risk assessment. The first line of defense always seems to be that there was no policy in place, the policy was unclear or those responsible for policy actually violated it.
Proactive Approach to Policy and Procedure Management
A proactive approach combines systems and processes that make policy and procedure management both more efficient and effective. Here are five characteristics of proactive policy and procedure management.
- Centralized and automated creation, deployment and maintenance of policy and procedures. Documents are always current and updates are distributed quickly. An audit trail is created to preserve policy history over time.
- Strong cross-organizational review too eliminate conflicting or inconsistent policy across departments. Shared governance is supported within this framework.
- Policy is distributed in a way that requires acknowledgement and actively monitors compliance. Policy that does not require acknowledgement is inherently weak.
- Testing is an optional part of policy acceptance. Testing ensures that policy has actually been reviewed and not just accepted.
- Policies are distributed to specific groups and roles within the institution. This increases compliance and protects unaffected groups from being inundated with every policy in a mass release to a website. While the policy-core-dump approach might seem more inclusive, it makes enforcement more difficult.