Where is your school in terms of policy management maturity?

In the third article in a four part series exploring the issues relating to policy management within schools we explore the concept of policy management maturity and provide you with an online tool that will provide you with a notional policy maturity risk self-assessment. 

James Field, Managing Director, CompliSpace

The first step in developing a policy management maturity model is to identify the key elements that are required to ensure that a school not only has the right policies in place, but also that these policies are being effectively implemented and maintained.

We have come up with the following “key elements” required to achieve effective policy management outcomes within a school.

As you read through each element consider how your school fares in terms of policy management maturity.

Element 1 – Policy Identification & Prioritisation Process

Too many policies create too much complexity and are unlikely to be complied with, or effectively maintained. Too few policies expose an school to key risks as outlined in Part One – Why effective policy management is critical to school a success. The process of policy identification and prioritisation constantly evolves, either as a result of changes in laws, changes in a school’s strategic direction, or as a result of commercial drivers (e.g. introduction of a social media policy).

Does your school have a process in place through which it regularly considers its internal business processes, identifies areas in which policy documentation is required, and then prioritises the drafting of these policies?

Element 2 – Policy Ownership

Policy ownership starts once a decision is made that a policy should exist (remember we are using the term “policy” broadly to include policies, procedures and programs). From the moment a decision is made that a policy is needed, the policy needs to be owned by an individual. The person who identifies the need for the policy may not necessarily be the person who drafts it. Similarly, the person who drafts it may not necessarily be the person who oversees it, reviews it or maintains it. What is important, however, is that an individual owns each stage in the policy management process.

Where your school has identified the need for a policy or has existing policies in place, can you easily identify the individual/s within your school who are responsible for the ongoing management of the particular policy? 

Element 3 – Policy Publication Strategy

Policies are designed to be referenced, not memorised. For policies to work effectively they need to be published in such a way that people know (i) that the policy exists (ii) how to reference it quickly and efficiently, and (iii) how to implement it effectively. Failure to have an effective strategy for publishing policies results in “policies sitting on the shelf”, or more likely these days, being hidden on a network drive or as a PDF on an ancient intranet site. If you have difficulty locating a particular policy or an attached form, you probably don’t have an effective policy publication strategy.

Does your school have a clear strategy for publishing its policies and procedures which ensures that your staff know (i) that the policy exists (ii) how to reference it quickly and efficiently and (iii) how to implement it effectively?

Element 4 – Policy Style Guide

Consistency in style and language, as well as in how particular policies are structured and formatted, is important to enable effective creation, implementation and maintenance of policies within a school.

Does your school have an easy to follow policy style guide, which is actually followed in practice?

Element 5 – Policy Drafting Expertise

The drafting of policies that are capable of being effectively implemented and maintained requires skill and experience that goes well beyond simple subject matter knowledge. The individual/s drafting a policy need to understand the policy’s target audience, the school’s publication strategy and style requirements.  All these things need to be considered and balanced if a policy is going to be effectively implemented.

Does your school recognise that the drafting of effective policies requires skill and experience that goes well beyond simple subject matter knowledge?

Element 6 – Co-ordinated Policy Management

In our experience, while most school managers now recognise that effective policy management is critical in a school (refer to Part 1 of this article series), in many schools policy management is still undertaken in an ad-hoc manner, with different departments creating policies in their particular areas with little or no centralised management co-ordination.

Does your school recognise that the effective creation, implementation and maintenance of policies requires a co-ordinated management approach to ensure consistency in style and language across your school, and to avoid “policy silos”?

Element 7 – Policy Approval Process

Every school needs to have some form of policy approval process in place. Schools that require every policy to be approved by the Principal tend to create bottlenecks which lead to policy paralysis. Schools that leave heads of functional departments to do their own thing, with little or no management co-ordination, tend to end up creating policy silos. The key is to adopt a balanced policy approval process that provides quality control and consistency of application, while avoiding overly bureaucratic processes.

Has your school adopted a policy approval process that provides quality control and consistency of application while avoiding overly bureaucratic processes?

Element 8 – Connecting Policies to Outcomes

Policies rarely stand alone. More often than not a policy will reference a form, a checklist, a register, or some other document which is used to ensure that the policy can be effectively implemented. An Annual Leave Policy will usually connect with a Leave Form, a Conflicts of Interest Policy will usually connect to a Conflicts Register and so on. Connecting policies to outcomes is critical to effective policy implementation and these days, related forms and other documents will often be available in electronic formats directly linked to the parent policy.

In your school can you easily access forms, checklists, registers, and other related documents, directly from a parent policy (for example, by using a hyperlink)?

Element 9 – Navigating Between Related Polices

Very similar to connecting policies to outcomes is the concept of connecting related policies. More often than not when drafting a policy it will be necessary to refer to a related policy. By way of example, a policy designed to manage workplace stress may link to other school policies related to standards of workplace behaviour (e.g. a Bullying Prevention Policy) or to an Internal Grievance Policy which is designed to allow a staff member to provide notification of their concern with respect to a particular issue. Seen in this light, the ability to quickly and efficiently link between related policies is critical to effective policy management.

In your school, can you easily navigate between related policies (for example, by using a hyperlink)?

Element 10 – Training Policies  

Given that policies are designed to be referenced, not memorised, efficient training of policies is a critical element in the policy implementation process. All staff need to be trained to be aware of the existence of the policies that are relevant to their position, and know how to reference these policies quickly and efficiently. Contrary to popular belief, not all policies need to be specifically trained. By way of example, staff do not need to be trained on policies such as Annual Leave, or Parental Leave, that are designed to be referenced on an as needs basis. On the other hand staff should receive specific training on polices relating to “high risk” areas such as workplace safety, bullying and harassment.

Does your school have in place a robust process for ensuring that all staff (including temporary teaching staff, casual staff and permanent teaching and non-teaching staff that start after the commencement of first term) are aware of the existence of policies that are relevant to their position and receive training with respect to policies that relate to “high risk” areas?

Element 11 – Policy Testing & Record Keeping

It is generally recognised that individuals will have much greater focus on training if they know that they are going to be tested on the subject matter. From a risk and compliance perspective, testing and the maintenance of records with respect to both training and testing, becomes particularly important in the event that an school is required to defend litigation, or, as is becoming more common, demonstrate compliance are a part of re-registration requirements.

Does your school have in place a robust process for recording details of the training and testing of individual staff members in high risk areas?

Element 12 – Policy Assurance Program

Even if you have developed robust policies and procedures and trained, tested and communicated them effectively, how do you know if your staff are actually following the policies and procedures? For any policy management program to work effectively it is critical that an school implements a system that allows it to obtain assurance that policies and procedures are being implemented properly. A policy assurance program essentially involves extracting the key operative parts of a policy (e.g. maintenance of a Conflicts Register), assigning responsibility for these tasks to individuals, monitoring whether or not they have completed the task, and finally, providing reports to management that provide information as to the overall effectiveness of the policy implementation.

Does your school have a policy assurance program in place through which individuals are made accountable for the implementation and maintenance of policies, and reports on the overall effectiveness of policy implementation are provided to management? 

Element 13 – Policy Review & Maintenance

Given that school polices constantly evolve, either as a result of changes in laws, changes in an school’s strategic direction, or as a result of commercial drivers, the establishment of a robust system for policy review and maintenance is critical to good policy management within an school.

Does your school have in place a robust process to ensure that your school’s policies and procedures are maintained up-to-date and fit for purpose?

Element 14 – Policy Version Control

Hand-in-hand with the process of reviewing and maintaining policies and procedures is the concept of policy version control. Maintaining version control is a key requirement in quality assurance programs and is also critical for managing litigation risk. Version control systems also assist in developing continuous improvement processes as they provide a high degree of transparency as to historical development of a school’s policy framework.

Does your school have in place a robust policy version control system that records changes in individual policies within your school’s policy framework over time?

On-Line Policy Management Maturity Assessment Tool

Use CompliSpace’s on-line Policy Management Maturity Assessment Tool to go through each element and rate your school’s policy management maturity level. Once you have completed the questionnaire you will be provided with a notional maturity rating.

The other articles in this series are:

Part One – Why is policy management critical to schoolal success within a school?

Part Two – Top policy management blunders in Schools – do you recognise any of these?

Coming soon:

Part Four – A simple model for ensuring effective policy management

 

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