“If a tree falls in the woods, and no one hears it, does it make a sound?” asks the philosophical thought experiment.

Likewise, if a policy is written and no one knows about it, does it actually exist?

The answer to the latter is, who cares? It may as well not.

Some companies are drunk on policies. One of Spark Compliance’s clients took inventory of the company’s policies and came up with 238!

How can it possibly be that anyone at the company knows all of those policies?

To the client’s credit, they undertook the difficult process of culling. In the Compliance Department, they were able to reduce 19 policies to 7, with procedure documents underlying them.

No Accountability

If people don’t know that a policy exists, several things may happen, all of which are bad.

First, policies are typically created to ensure a uniform approach to something that could challenge the company. Without a known policy, differing approaches may be taken which could create chaos or inconsistency.

Next, if people don’t know about a policy, they can’t be held accountable to it, and it can’t be enforced. Accountability is important. And if there is a policy but no one cares to enforce it, why is there a policy in the first place?

Worst case scenario?

People could unknowingly violate the law or place the company in jeopardy.

No Roll-Out Plan? No Publish

In response to these challenges, many companies have instituted a requirement that in order to have a policy approved or published, it must be accompanied by a roll-out plan.

The very best practice is to have a policy on policies that enumerates this requirement, along with a policy review committee that enforces the requirement.

What’s in a Roll-Out Plan?

If the policy only applies to a limited audience, a roll-out plan may be as simple as an announcement at a team meeting followed by an email with the policy attached.

For other policies, more may be required.

This can include:

A combination of training, communications, and tools may be the best of all depending on the depth of the policy and the complexity of the procedures.

By following this advice, you may still ponder whether a tree that falls in the forest makes a noise if no one hears it. But you’ll never again wonder whether you can enforce a policy – because everyone who needs to know will have heard about it.

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