As a records officer, you have probably encountered the terms: policies, procedures, standards, guidelines, and processes, in relation to records management. Often these words are used interchangeably, but they each have different roles and degrees of detail in managing record information.
This post is the first in a four-part series to discuss the meaning and application of these terms. Records management is full of policies, procedures, standards, guidelines, and processes, all designed to ensure information is properly used, stored, retained, and meets the proper disposition.
As a record officer, know that the meaning of each of these words can vary slightly depending on the department. What the HR division would call a ‘guideline’, the IT department may call a ‘work instruction’.
Today, let’s talk about the highest level of documentation: policy. ARMA says “effectiveness depends primarily on the organization’s ability to enforce the policy”. Policies are created in response to a need. They briefly and specifically address the WHY, or the principle of action your office has adopted. The International Standards Organization says a “policy statement defines a general commitment, direction, or intention.” Policies should be written so that anyone in your organization can look at it as a framework for their work responsibilities. For example, the Department of Administrative Services has an email policy which specifies who is responsible for the retention. Each employee uses this policy to manage their email, but the divisions clarify the specific steps to be taken at the procedure and guideline level.
When writing or updating a policy, keep your intended audience in mind. Your audience may include your legal and HR divisions who use policies to ensure discipline and compliance, or it may include the IT department who looks to the policy to determine desired technical capabilities and results. For example, a policy written by and in the language of lawyers would be less helpful to your customer service representatives than one that was written using their language style and lingo.
Policies are more specific than a mission statement, but may contain a mission statement. A policy should capture the scope, purpose and may reference high level standards.