This article was originally published on The Compliance Professionals Forum, a membership organization supporting compliance professionals in the ARM industry.
Policies and Procedures are here to stay and will become the heartbeat of your organization. Aside from all the elaborate ways of writing policies and understanding the right approach to use when developing procedures, one must first consider and understand how they will impact the health of your organization from a different angle.
Before you even put pen to paper run through this quick checklist:
1. Policy Format
Determine the advantages and disadvantages of combining a policy and procedure or separating the two from each other.
2. Level of Document Access & Detail
Determine which level of documents should be targeted at which level of employees. This can be different for each organization pending the architecture of the organization. Consider:
- Senior Management — policies only
- Middle Management — policies, procedures, work instructions
- Front-Line/Entry Level — work instructions
TIP: Not all employees need to have permission to see all company polices, in fact it is better if they cannot.
Most companies feel it is in their best interest to provide permission to employees to see all company policies, while in fact it can be a determinate. Employees should be able to view policies applicable to their specific job. Employees who have access to all policies may feel overwhelmed with too much information or feel the information is conflicting if they try and link policies together that should not be. It also might allow them to “game the system” if they see too much detail inside policies they should not be reviewing. For example, if a policy & procedure details the testing days or times for call audits, or outlines the length of a call that is being audited it could give the collector insight into how to avoid the audit.
Determine the level of detail inside your policies and procedures. i. Be mindful and careful when providing detail inside your policies. Good policy writing can help with lawsuits, but bad policy writing can increase the risk of lawsuits or regulatory actions. For example, if a collector makes a phone call outside of the window allowed by the FDCPA, a collection agency may be shielded by the Bona Fide Error Defense if the agency has detailed policies and procedures documenting how these types of calls are to be avoided. On the other hand, a script or work instruction that encourages discussing credit reporting to motivate consumers to make payments might be frowned upon by regulators like the CFPB. One useful guideline when determining the level of detail your policy or procedure requires is to determine if a regulation or law requires distinct steps or a process. If so, the document is likely to be at least as detailed as the regulation it is intended to comply with.
3. Organization of Policies
Keep it simple and reader friendly. The rule of thumb is to provide the, who, what, where, when and why:
- Who is responsible for carrying out the policy (Make sure this individual(s) is behind this policy, watch out for the ones who say I didn’t write the policy I only enforce it. Warning, Danger sign!)
- What the company will do (Say what you will do and stick to it)
- Where does it impact the Company (Be specific and not too general)
- When does this policy apply (Make this very clear and not for interpretation)
- Why is the policy necessary (Provide the benefits to the employees, not just because the company says so)
Lastly, remember no policy is ever perfect and without the buy in of your employees; without the support of stakeholders who will have to implement these policies, you might as well put them on a shelf and let them begin to attract dust. The health and reputation of your company is at stake, so get your employees involved in the policy writing process and challenge them to share best practices. Soliciting their feedback at the front-end of the more contentious policies, such as a Cell Phone Use Policy will only aid in the roll-out and acceptance. Allowing employees to contribute in the development and the maintenance of polices will keep things moving.
Take good care of your Policy and Procedure heartbeat!