Let’s face it: For many agencies, the process of reviewing new policies or policy updates is a real headache. Who should be involved in the process? How long should you plan for review? In some agencies, a strict top-down approach works, with only one or two people reviewing policy content before it’s approved and issued. But in working with thousands of agencies, we’ve found that most benefit from a more collaborative approach.
A policy workgroup is a great way to ensure a balanced and representative approach to customizing and implementing your policy manual. The workgroup can be used to address new policies, policy updates or procedures. All items coming from the workgroup should follow an established workflow to ensure the appropriate and necessary people review the material in a timely manner before it is issued to the membership.
Note: To simplify matters I’ve based the following best practices on an average-size organization.
Build a Small but Diverse Group
Your public safety policy review workgroup should include as few people as possible to accomplish the task in a timely manner. Three people often suffices. You may need more, but don’t allow the group to become needlessly bloated.
There will likely be times where the workgroup members cannot reach unanimity. For this reason, I recommend an odd number of members, so if things ever come to a vote, a majority can be reached. With mutual respect for other members, consensus should be the minimum goal.
While keeping it small, ensure that the group is reasonably diverse. Members of the workgroup can be of any rank, sworn or non-sworn, but at least one should be from middle management or higher and it’s best if all members have supervisory rank. A workgroup without the necessary supervisory presence can lose focus on the need for policy to reflect reasonable rules, expectations and consequences.
It is also best if workgroup members come from different backgrounds or assignments in the organization (e.g., administration, patrol, fire prevention, training). This diversity allows for the workgroup to solve as many issues as possible within the group, without overly relying on external participants.
Set Clear Participation Rules
Participation of public safety policy workgroup members is essential. If a member takes on too many other responsibilities and cannot spend enough time with the workgroup, find a replacement.
Conduct meetings on a regular basis. The appropriate frequency is situational; the needs of each agency differ and can vary over time. If your department is actively implementing a large number of new or updated policies, weekly meetings will be necessary. If you’re in a maintenance mode, meetings may be scheduled in response to legislative or standards updates.
The ability to speak freely is also important. Most circumstances call for a democratic approach, but there will be times where an executive, human resources director or city attorney will give strict directions for the way a policy must be stated. Democracy helps workgroup members and the department take ownership over the process and will help foster buy-in when a policy dictates a significant change in the organization.
Finally, take ego out of the workgroup. I can’t explain how important this is. In most agencies, a new policy is championed and written primarily by one person. This usually leads to some level of emotional attachment to the content or wording. Other members can feel uncomfortable pointing out a grammar error or flawed logic. When I work with agencies as an implementation specialist, I’ve found that being a third party, I can help alleviate this issue. I don’t have any history in the agency or any established relationships with the workgroup members. This helps ensure the discussions are based on logic instead of ego or emotions.
How do you eliminate ego if you’re not working with a third party like Lexipol’s Implementation Services? Consider appointing a member whose background represents broad experience across the organization. If one of your supervisors or command staff has a reputation for diplomacy or is universally respected, that person may be a good choice. Finally, some agencies have had good results using a part-time retired member to head up policy review, which can reduce territorial feelings. The bottom line: A policy is meant to benefit all agency members and the community, not to bolster someone’s resume.
Design a Linear, Efficient Workflow
I’ve worked with agencies whose workflow was so lengthy that by the time the policies were approved, they needed a significant revamp. This is especially common in large organizations or ones that may exist in several locations across a given state or region (e.g., state police, fire protection district). This can expose any agency to increased risk.
To combat this, first identify other entities that will need to participate in the public safety policy review and approval process. It may be a human resources director, city attorney, union representative, academy director and ultimately the agency executive. This helps you visualize different “boxes” that need to be checked off for each policy or procedure.
Next, set linear workflow steps. If multiple groups are simultaneously reviewing the same draft and providing edits or suggestions, it can be difficult to consolidate the information. How often have you experienced multiple versions floating around and no one knows which one is the correct one?
Third, set a time limit for each workflow step. For internal groups, such as subject matter experts or division commanders, reviews should be completed in one to two weeks. For external groups, such as members of other departments or a legal review, more time may be needed; this should be negotiated between participants. Time limits should hold reviewers accountable, but they also need to be realistic and account for seasonal variances in workloads.
The final step of any policy approval workflow is issuing it to the agency members. Members should be provided a means to suggest changes or additions, ideally in writing or electronically so that a record exists.
Policy review is a process that can trip up the most organized, efficient agencies. But by incorporating these best practices, you can streamline the process and eliminate those policy manual woes!