Policies Workshop Review

By Trevor Banks

If you had asked me ahead of time, I would have said that I didn’t need to take a workshop on drafting Information Management (IM) policies. After all, I’ve been in this IM game for 15 years now and, in fact, the Manager of IM Policy units since 2006. It’s not like I haven’t had a lot of exposure to policy writing. 

But then I thought about it a bit. The world has changed. Tones of voice have changed. Attitudes towards how we address each other have changed. As the manager of a modern Policy shop, I see that the role of policy has shifted. This is less about “do it because I said so” and now more about “why am I doing this?”  This doesn’t mean that policy doesn’t matter. It remains anchored in our administrative governance. But… how to reflect these changes in policy instruments?

I have been interested in Lewis’ work since, well I don’t when. A very long while to say the least. So, upon publishing I grabbed his book. Lewis’s book spoke to me; it got to the heart of the matter I was concerned with: the purpose of IM policy, the ‘voice’ in policy and the structure needed.

Quick aside. Speaking of change, how training is delivered has changed. Webinars are fast becoming the new norm. I wondered how learning would be shifted by this. This part April, I noticed ARMA Saskatchewan was offering a live online policy drafting webinar. As this fit my schedule, I decided to take advantage of it. It would combine all the elements I was looking for. 

Heading into the workshop, I wondered how much of the content would be a review of expertise already built up over time. But this was not the case. I was bowled over by the content. Lewis offered me how to do policy to reflect modern demands and modern attitudes. 

One of THE key aspects of this workshop that I took away, was Lewis’ approach to policy drafting. It matches my own approach to IM implementation projects: turn a traditionally technically-focused exercise into a people-focused one. 

As someone who has spent many years incorporating change management lens into the scope of all IM projects, I have always tried to emphasize the human elements of implementing IM projects successfully in an organization. I have promoted incorporating change management techniques into our profession, distinguishing between training and awareness, and recognizing that skillfully managing the expectations and perceptions of our clients is a major element of our jobs.

The approach Lewis takes is the same, focussing on the human elements of rule writing to help guide the process. We started with fundamental questions like the following:

  • Where are policies appropriate? Where are they overkill?
  • How do policies support or defeat an organization’s corporate culture?
  • What is the role that we wish to play as IM Specialists?
  • How do other members of the organization hear the language we use in our policies?

A third of the workshop was dedicated to policy statement wording choices. If you have read Lewis on LinkedIn or twitter or seen him speak you know that this is very salient point he raises. Often, very often, our policies carry negative undertones that we didn’t really intend, because we often forget to check the text for tone of voice. As a result, the language often sounds more aggressive or adversarial than it was meant to be. 

Lewis showed us how to write policy statements so that we are more mindful at reading and hearing/seeing the “voice” in the word. I feel more empowered to now use Policy to improve compliance rather than hinder it. In his words, we want to avoid “policies that sound like angry parents scolding naughty children.” I like that line. The reworded statements sound like we are describing our practises rather than a sergeant shouting instructions.

Despite it being a webinar vs the “old” approach of in person sessions, we spent a proper amount of time in groups working through well-crafted group exercises supplemented by instructor-led discussion. To make his points, Lewis leads us through the discovery process of options available to us. He then reviewed the considerations that help us decide which approach is best for our environment, given our own unique set of factors.

Lewis’s way to run webinars is at its early stages. The tech was seamless but the way to keep the audience is engaged will need to be reviewed and new ideas popped into this course design. 

But, if you are looking for Policy help, let me add this is a workshop for you. Many who attended with me, wanted covered some of the most common questions asked by people who write policies:

  • What’s the difference between a policy, a directive, and a standard?
  • How do we make requirements sound strict when the enforcement mechanisms may not be in place?
  • Are roles and responsibilities the same thing?
  • Where’s the best place to put definitions?
  • How much detail or explanation is appropriate?

Given that we so focussed on Policy, all these questions were relevant and of interest and further, we connected as a community despite the physical distance.

I left this course with the realization that we don’t need to through out the baby with the bath water, that policy doesn’t need to be dropped from an IM approach but just cleaned up a bit. 

Now, when I look at IM policies, I feel more empowered to comment on their tone, direction, and purpose. 

Trevor Banks is the Chief Clerk and Bottle Washer of the Government of Canada’s Peace Corps Orphanage (PCO). He specializes in…

…oh wait… actually Trevor is the Manager of Information Management and Data Management Policy for the Privy Council’s Office in the Government of Canada