In this article we’re going to look at the role policy management software can play, the value it can bring and the kind of features it might include.Managing a company’s policies and procedures in an efficient way is important; ensuring employees can access the latest policies helps drive compliance and reduce risk. But it’s also an area where there are challenges – how do you get all policy owners to ensure their policies are up to date? And how do you let employees know when there is a new policy that they must read, but then actually get them to do it? Some firms have document management systems (DMS) in place that support effective policy management, but there are also a number of dedicated policy management solutions that do much of the heavy lifting.
What’s involved in policy management?Policy management involves the creation, storage, distribution, dissemination and ongoing life-cycle management of policies and procedures within an organisation.
Managing policies and procedures is not necessarily the responsibility of the in-house legal team, but they may have some influence in making sure that there is a robust system in place, particularly where a company has not invested in a dedicated document management solution (DMS).
Policy management is important for obvious reasons. Individual stakeholders across different business functions need to keep policies and procedural information up to date for multiple reasons including compliance, risk, operational efficiency and more. Employees then need to be able to regularly access policy documents and related procedural information and guidelines to carry out their roles while remaining compliant. They also need to be able to know when there has been a change to a policy that impacts how things are done and tasks are completed.
Some regulators and other related third-parties will also need to have confidence that there are systems in place that successfully let employees know about changes to policies, and may even want ways to measure this; this is usually done through an employee attestation process where a person confirms that they have read and understood a policy that has changed.
Challenges around policy managementManaging policies and procedures sounds straightforward in principle, but it has plenty of challenges.
Firstly, the ownership and authorship of policies tends to be distributed across multiple stakeholders such as legal, HR, IT, leadership team and more, so there is no overall control from one central body. This means policy management involves working with many people all of whom work in different ways and with differing levels of adherence to any “rules”. Think herding cats.
Secondly, version control and life-cycle management can be a problem. People store local versions of policy documents on their own drive or access them via email, which may not always be the latest version of a policy. Indeed, there may be multiple versions of the same document in circulation. If there is an “official” place for policies such as the company intranet, this may not even house the latest version, as it relies on different stakeholders to update it manually.
Efficient distribution and dissemination of policies also have multiple logistical issues. If your policies are also available on the intranet, can employees always find the right one, or do they even know a policy exists? Perhaps you also have front-line employees in your organisation who can’t even access the intranet because they do not have digital identities. And how likely are employees actually going to want to read policy or procedural information which can be very dry and not exactly a riveting read?
Finally, from a compliance angle how do you show that employees have digested, read, and agreed to a policy or a change, if they are not even able to access the information efficiently in the first place.
How can policy management software help?
Policy management software is designed to help with some of these challenges and do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to policy management by:
- Making it easier for policy owners to actively manage policies through the lifecycle from when they are first created through multiple updates to the point where a policy is replaced or retired.
- Providing a central place where policies can be accessed, giving confidence to employees that the policy library includes the most up to date versions of policy and procedural information.
- Using automation and notifications where possible to support both policy owners and employees, removing painful manual processes involving email and spreadsheets.
- Supporting additional processes around policy management including employee attestation and general reporting.
It’s important to note that although policy management software can be very helpful, there is still considerable levels of stakeholder management and change management required to ensure that policies are updated by owners, and employees read any updates when they need to. However, using software can make an overall consistent and thorough approach to policy management more achievable.
There may also be some overlap between a document management system (DMS) and the features included in a policy management system. It will be useful if the latter can integrate with your DMS or the platforms you have in place to manage documents – for example Microsoft 365 / SharePoint in many organisations.
Key features of policy management software
There are multiple policy management solutions on the market. Policy management software will differ in scope and vary in functionality, but often tends to have some features in common. Let’s explore some of these major features you’ll find in policy management software.
A centralised policy and procedure library
At the centre of a policy management solution will be a document library – potentially with additional pages of information – where all employees can access policies and procedural content, and useful related information such as a named owner and / or contact. Potentially this central library might be integrated with a company intranet.
Ownership and versioning
The policy management software will include permissions to ensure only the right people have access to manage the policies they are responsible for. There will be automatic versioning of documents and pages, so that only the latest version of a document will be displayed. This is likely to include automatic document numbering too.
There are usually different views and filters of policies by type, date, function etc. as well as the ability to search by free text, to help employees find the policies they need. The ability to tag policies by custom labels specific to your organisation is also helpful.
Personalisation, targeting and permissions
Good policy management solutions should also include the ability to personalise and target policies to particular groups to ensure relevance, but also apply permissions on any policies that one group shouldn’t see. For example, you may want your sales staff to see relevant selling policies and procedures, or restrict an HR policy to a particular country.
An advanced solution should also let an employee know if there is action required on reading specific policies; for example, a new starter entering the policy library might see a list of policies that they are required to be read.
Employees should be able to receive notifications about new policies, actions required or policy changes, while policy owners should get reminders to review the content that they are responsible for.
Collaboration and approval workflow
Some policy management software has collaboration and approval workflow in place to help teams collaborate on writing policies, and also ensure any policy updates pass through the levels of approval required before they are added to the main library.
Life-cycle management features
Policy management software will tend to include policy lifecycle management features that make it easier for policy owners to keep their content up to date. For example, this might include automated review dates and notifications, watermarks to warn users a policy has not been reviewed, dashboards to help owners keep up to date with their policies, relevant notifications and more.
Employee attestation and learning
Many policy management solutions have an employee attestation feature that allows you to ask employees to confirm they have read and understood a policy. Some solutions also add bespoke learning features such as adding quizzes to test whether a policy has actually been read. Employee attestation features will also usually include automatic notifications and reporting to track progress and identify where additional communications and reminders need to be added; reports may be suitable to provide to third-parties for compliance reasons.
Policy management solutions should include audit trails on policy documents to track updates.
Most solutions will also have some in-built reporting to track policy updates, policy reads, employee attestation and more.
To support employee attestation processes and show compliance, sometimes policy software can include the ability for electronic signatures. In practice, this is most likely delivered through integration with major signature services like DocuSign.
Policy management is important but has some challenges. It’s an area where in-house legal teams can help and can advocate for more robust processes to support better policy management. There are several dedicated solutions that support policy management; these have some common features; but are certainly worth considering if policy management is not carried out to the extent that it should be.