In today’s litigious times, it’s no longer enough for companies to have good policies in place; it’s essential they can prove that the policies have been rolled out and implemented, says Julian Roberts of EssentialSkillz, the leading compliance eLearning company.
The administrative burden of maintaining compliance is becoming more onerous year on year. These are just some of the regular complaints when business owners and managers get together and comments about ‘Brussels bureaucracy’ were at the heart of the Brexit debate.
Yet businesses show no sign of reducing the number of policies that operate in any organisation today. Successful companies recognise that good policies that are well implemented, are a critical part of the organisational infrastructure, bringing a level of consistency, uniformity, repeatability and risk management to many activities.
Of course, many policies stem from legislation, especially in the areas of employment law and health and safety. The growing legislation about financial matters, such as competition law and the Bribery Act, and the expanding arena of data compliance are becoming necessary for businesses of all sizes.
Added to this are the numerous policies related to Standards (ISO, CEN, BS etc.) and industry or regulatory protocols. Finally, there are the self-imposed policies every organisation introduces, which set out the way that businesses function and operate.
Research by EssentialSkillz shows that even SME businesses are tracking at least 15 policies and larger organisations or those operating in heavily regulated sectors can have between 100–200 policies in force at any one time.
Each of these policies will be updated on a regular basis and every new or updated policy must be issued to all the relevant staff affected, which could range from just a handful of people to tens of thousands of employees in multiple locations.
Last but by no means least, the organisation must be able to prove that the relevant people received the policy and have acknowledged they will follow it. Ironically, it is the last step which is increasingly the Achilles heel in effective policy management.
Unfortunately, some organisations make little or no attempt to track or trace their policy implementation and those that do are all too often relying on an unwieldy manual system or series of spreadsheets, which are simply not fit for purpose when policies and staff change so frequently.
Take one example: ‘Company A’ changes its health and safety policy with regard to trips and falls, specifically requiring people to use a handrail when walking up or down stairs. Three months after the policy has been updated, a member of staff falls down stairs at work, colliding with two other members of staff, all suffering a range of injuries.
The incident is reported and both internal and external enquiries are started and the affected staff file a claim for compensation, claiming they knew nothing about the handrail policy and had never seen any documentation about it.
So, the policy exists – it’s in the HR Department binder and the Health &Safety Manager’s records. The policy is also exemplary in its guidance and the way the information is conveyed in words, images and different languages to account for the ethnic diversity of the workforce.
There’s just one problem. No one can definitively prove that the policy was sent to the staff involved in the incident. There is evidence of an email sent to a ‘departmental group’ email address – but no certain proof. Even worse, there is no evidence that any member of staff has acknowledged they have received, understood and will abide by the policy.
How easy do you think it would be for ‘Company A’ to defend the claim for injury and avoid prosecution by the Health & Safety Executive? And, of course, it’s not just HR policies – the same principles apply to every policy, whether backed by legislation or standards/protocols.
It’s not enough to have great policies; it’s vital that you can prove they have been rolled out effectively, which is why companies are adopting online compliance management tools that systematically roll out policies to every member of staff and crucially provided an audit trail of each policy being read and accepted.
WorkWize is a compliance management system developed by EssentialSkillz, a leading global supplier of online compliance solutions, established in 2001 with over 400 blue chip customers and hundreds of thousands of users.