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Policy review

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When was the last time your human resource policy manual was reviewed?

Well, if you're like many organizations, I'll bet your HR policy manuals are out of date. For instance, have you updated the manual to include the new Manitoba flextime rules? Do you have a policy for armed forces reservist leave? Has an employee inquired about and/or requested use of the compassionate care leave provisions? These are just a few of the changes made over the past few years.

Or, just as challenging, are you one of those organizations that have several copies of their HR manuals spread all throughout the organization, but with different dates and levels of currency? Can your managers find the appropriate HR policies when they need them? Perhaps you simply have too many loose memos regarding policy changes, but you don't ever seem to get them inserted into the policy manual. As well, I am sure there are others who have attempted to create online access through the company intranet, but that project, too, may have been set aside and therefore not finished and is not usable.

So, what happens when your policy manuals are out of date? First of all, you can bet there is considerable inconsistency among departments occurring within your organization. Policies are guidelines for managers and without them decisions are often made based on interpersonal relationships and informal agreements that can lead to perceptions of favouritism or even worse, it might create some unexpected costs for your organization.

For instance, I remember an incident with a client where a receptionist willingly responded to her boss's request to occasionally run a special task for him over her lunch hour. While he thought she felt appreciated by doing special things for him and/or was enjoying the fresh air, the receptionist was busy counting her overtime hours. Lo and behold two years later, a new boss arrives to find out the receptionist has over 200 hours of booked and "authorized" overtime. A problem, to say the least!

Where does one start? First of all, you need to keep in mind that writing a policy manual from scratch and/or revising an outdated policy manual is time consuming -- it can take up to a year of work. Therefore, plan a schedule that allows you time to conduct research, consult managers, review legislation, prepare drafts and write, rewrite, edit, write and rewrite. Following the steps below will assist you to develop a smooth process for policy review and writing.

New policy requirements -- Use a template document that requires managers to outline their new policy requests. The template should request information on why the policy is needed, how it fits in with established policies, whether there may be overlaps that should be addressed, or if it replaces a current policy.

Set up a policy committee -- While one person, typically the HR manager, might be assigned to write a policy statement, it is wise to have a committee of detail-oriented managers who will review the policies with that old-fashioned fine-tooth comb. It is amazing how different perspectives can add value to how your policies will be implemented.

Conduct informal research -- Hopefully, your HR manager will have been tracking policy areas that have been causing concern. Hold a set of meetings with managers to brainstorm issues that need to be dealt with and that can be rectified with a policy. Determine if the issues are actually policy versus training concerns.

Review current legislation -- There are typically frequent notices sent out from an employment standards department, but there are also policies from different departments that need to be consulted. This includes legislation such as workplace safety and health and/or workers compensation. Develop a checklist of new policies, research the details and prepare to incorporate the legislation into your policy manual.

Review each policy -- Use a critical eye to proofread and examine each policy for clarity, conciseness and coherence. Be sure to keep the reader in mind; in other words, keep your policies simple and straightforward. Avoid company jargon, acronyms, and/or big trendy words. Eliminate phrases that are redundant as well as those unnecessary words and clichés.

Confirm your policy framework -- The policies need to be written in a consistent manner. My preference is to include a headline banner that provides the title, dates of approval, dates of revision and the department that has authorization over the policy. Next, add a section to describe the policy in brief and then describe to whom the policy applies.

Write, edit, rewrite, edit and rewrite -- Once finished the first draft of your policies, send it to another reader for their own review. At the same time, set it aside yourself for a few days and then reread it. You'll be surprised at the changes you will make after a few days of rest. Finally, determine which policies should be reviewed by your legal counsel to make sure you are onside and have not misinterpreted any legislation.

Plan your design and layout -- The idea here is to make the policy manual easy to read and to ensure that people can find the policies easily. Pay attention to the title of each policy. Determine if you will file the policies alphabetically and/or by section and number. Use help icons where possible. Use inserts in the margins to direct readers to key points. Allow for a good deal of white space so that the content is not overcrowding.

Identify change management issues -- This is particularly important if there are major changes in the policies that will cause trepidation amongst employees. Be sure to give an appropriate notice period. Consider introducing major new changes on a bit of a slower implementation schedule.

Develop a communication and training plan -- One of the key purposes of policies is to create consistency throughout the organization and so it is critical that managers receive training on the new policies and their role in implementation. Develop a communications plan for your employees and then determine who needs to know and how will you advise them. Use your company newsletter, prepare a question and answer document, and/or hold a central staff meeting.

When was the last time your human resource policy manual was reviewed? If your policies are indeed out of date, then your organization is at risk not only of contravening legislation but also creating risk in the area of financial accountability. Not only that, since policies are representative of organization culture, the lack of current policies will speak volumes about the value of ensuring fairness and equity in your organization.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CPP, is president of Legacy Bowes Group and vice-president of Waterhouse Executive Search. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2012 H1

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