The Serious Face of Internal Policies

I have spent this week struggling to work out how to make POLICIES exciting and fun and – given that this conundrum made me skip a blog posting last week and my next post is due today – I am happy to admit to a big fail so that I can get something written! I obviously enjoy thinking about policies, processes, governance and that sort of thing, but for normal people who probably do not get a kick out of it … well I haven’t worked out a way to give this particular week’s subject a bit of sparkle or pizzazz. I will blame this on being the mother of a 4 month old who likes to have a chat at 3am-ish every morning and I will try to be more creative about our next topic – I promise!

So here is a serious perspective on business policies and standards.

Albrecht Dürer's Portrait of a Man (a serious man!)
Albrecht Dürer’s Portrait of a Man (a serious man!)

Business policies are statements of an organisation’s expectations that guide the behaviour of an organisation’s staff and volunteers. They are similar to the business rules that we discussed in our last topic, although there are some key differences.

Unlike business rules, business policies are usually presented as internal-facing materials in formally endorsed documents. They are written in prose (not in rule form) and cover a certain aspect of an organisation. Businesses have procurement policies, communication policies, human resource policies… in large, mature organisations, there will be dozens of policies that cover most facets of their business. A business policy should be presented in an easily readable way and give its audience a solid overview of what should happen in a certain organisational area.

To compare business policies with business rules:

  1. GRANULARITY – Business rules: business policies have a ratio of many: one. Business rules are broken down to the lowest common denominator. Business rules are absolute and specific so that it is clear when a rule is being broken, whereas business policies aim to get the right balance between broad coverage and detail so that a newcomer can quickly get an understanding of what behaviour is expected in a certain area.
  2. FORMAT – Business policies are documented in prose, whereas business rules are statements.
  3. INTENT – Business policies provide guidance on what should happen in far more detail than business principles, but it is business rules that say ‘you must do this’ and ‘you must not do that’.
  4. ADDITIONAL USE – Business policies are presented in documents that can be read and extracted from, whereas business rules (as discussed in our last blog post) can be used for designing and running business systems.

Reading through these differences, I’ve just made it sound as though business policies and rules are completely at odds with each other, but that is not true. In fact, they complement each other well and can be imagined as two sides of the same mirror, or maybe even as the same thing in parallel universes. They feed into each other from different sides of the same coin, with slightly different purposes, but the same outcome if they are adhered to.

Detail driven people who think from the bottom up would often prefer to read (or document) business rules first as these will bring out the nitty gritty of behaviour within an area. However conceptual thinkers who work from the top down will prefer to read (and write) business policies first, as these will provide the context that they crave.

I think it is worth spending a minute looking at policy in the government sector, as ‘policy’ there is not clear cut. There is policy held by a political party, policy made by the government, policy created by administering government departments and internal policy for the employees of the department. For the purposes of this topic – business policies – we are talking about those internal policies that guide the behaviour of public servants in the same way that private companies have policies that guide the behaviour of their employees.

But – and this is the interesting bit! – to understand the Superior Business Model you need to understand that relevant policies created by government departments become the business constraints of other organisations.

And in all seriousness, that’s all you need to know about internal policies. Or for today at least!

Internal policies are:  Statements of organisational intent that are documented in internal facing documents which guide the behaviour of an organisation’s staff and volunteers for a specific aspect of the organisation.

The purpose of creating internal policies:  To quickly communicate behavioural expectations (supporting the achievement of business goals), enable the operationalisation of business principles and constraints, and capture corporate knowledge within an organisation.

What do you think?

Is this the right definition of internal policy? And what do you think about the relationship between business rules and internal policy? Is there a place for both in one organisation?

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