Risk-First Policy Writing?

johnwood, 9/16/2020

How do you go about creating a comprehensive policy guide?

Many organizations just get an employee guide off the shelf. Some outsource it to an HR company or their corporate lawyer. Sometimes a lot of it would be developed by guess work. And much of the time, they add new policies as they find a need to - usually because of an incident that occurs, and the organization's response to mitigate a recurrence. It's not always easy to come up with a comprehensive policies and procedures guide that works for your specific business off-the-bat.

But one approach that I think works well is to take a risk-first approach. By this, I mean first you come up with a list of the biggest risks facing your company. And then, for each risk that you've identified, you create a policy or formalize procedures to protect your organization from it.

Let's look at an example of a potential risk: key staff departure.

If one of your key staff, that your critical operations are dependent upon, suddenly leaves - what will you do? Without proper preparation, your organization could be paralyzed. You could be unable to operate, and the results could be disastrous.

So now you analyze this risk. What kind of policy or procedure could you enact to mitigate this risk?

There are several aspects to this. A part of it will inevitably involve their employment contract to at least dissuade them from leaving abruptly, but that is never guaranteed. And what if they get very sick? What if they win the lottery? There are many things that organizations simply cannot control. But what they can control are the policies and procedures they institute.

The first area to focus on would be a proper resignation and termination policy. The resignation policy can be updated to ensure proper notice is given, and the termination policy should be modified to include a transition procedure. And perhaps more critically would be a policy that ensures there is always a staff member who can take over another's work, and that all work is properly documented to make knowledge transfer more seamless.

Developing a comprehensive mitigation can be a collaborative process. Get a group together, preferably one with some experience, and explain the risk and ask for their opinion on how that risk could be mitigated. It's likely you'll have a long list of good ideas in no time. Then work through those ideas to see how they can be transformed into workable policies and procedures.

This is just one example of a policy or procedure that can arise from assessing risks, there are many others. But hopefully this gives you a taste of how effective it can be to produce your organization's policy handbook by starting at a list of risks that your organization faces.

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