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Why Printing Policies and Procedures From Your Compliance Policy Certification System is A Very Bad Idea

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Why Printing Policies and Procedures From Your Compliance Policy Certification System is A Very Bad Idea

Talking to our clients is one of the things I like most about my position in Product Marketing at The Network. It’s important that we take our clients’ needs into account when planning future enhancements of our software solutions, so I and others on the team frequently conduct interviews and surveys, attend industry conferences, and engage the market on social media.

Policy management systems are a hot topic today among ethics and compliance practitioners. Conversations go in lots of interesting directions: gaining executive buy-in, how to get a policy effort off the ground in the first place once your company decides to start, etc.

I had a really interesting conversation this week about the export capabilities of a policy management system. The question pertained to exporting published policies to .PDF in order to make them accessible to employees who don’t have a system login.

Eyebrows went up when I said, simply, “Don’t do it!

One of the primary reasons to consider a comprehensive online system of record for your policies and procedures is so you can be absolutely sure an employee can only access the current, approved version of the policy or procedure.

Employees need to know that if it’s in the system, it’s a policy; if it’s not in the system, it’s not a policy. Period. Share on Twitter

For companies that have centralized their policies and procedures in a comprehensive online system of record, I believe it is entirely counterproductive to print policies or procedures. Creating a version of a policy outside the system of record instantly diminishes the significance of that system of record. Why? Because now that system of record is no longer the only place to find policies.

Once you print a policy or procedure, that’s one more copy you need to track down and eliminate when the inevitable next version is released. That printed copy cannot communicate to the reader that there’s a newer version–it can only communicate its date of revision. An employee checking the policy in the middle of a busy day may not even notice the date of revision. So unless you’re removing this copy once the policy is updated, you’ve created a risk of an employee doing the wrong thing. So don’t do it!

What are the reasons companies print an electronic document anyway, specifically a policy or procedure? There are two primary reasons we hear in our interviews with our clients and prospects:

  1. We print policies on paper so that we can circulate them and collect hand written edits.
  2. We print policies so employees with limited or no access can read them.

There are solutions for both of these problems that avoid the negative outcomes of printing a policy out of your compliance policy certification system.

First, let’s consider hand written edits. Many teams edit their policies in Microsoft Word. While this is one way to manage content, doing so introduces the additional workload of (1) tracking all the edits as you pass that document around through email, (2) keeping track of which copy is the latest, (3) hand-entering changes from one or two stakeholders who made their edits on a paper copy, (4) ensuring the unapproved Word document isn’t stored in a location visible to other employees, and (5) retaining records of who made which changes while you’re working through the editing cycle.

So instead of printing a copy, have your compliance policy certification system do all that for you!

Have stakeholders login to the system of record to make their changes. If everyone logs into the system to make edits, there isn’t any need to merge those changes with the copy everyone else is working on. With everyone’s changes in the same system, that added workload goes away.

Second, let’s talk about employees who don’t have system access at a desk. Delivering online policy content to employees who don’t have a computer is more of a challenge, but companies are doing it every day. The key is to find a way to bring the electronic policy document to the employee, without creating an opportunity for outdated policies by printing it first.

Compliance policy certification system, policy management systems

For factories and other locations with large employee populations that don’t have their own computer to use, installing a centrally located kiosk is a popular option. These days, it’s pretty cheap to setup a kiosk using an inexpensive tablet computer like an iPad or a similar device. If your policy management software offers a mobile app, it can enable your employees to login with their employee number to see the policy and document that they accessed it. No sweat.

This way you’re positive they’re only seeing the current version. And, better yet, you won’t have a dated paper copy that may cause confusion later on.

For road warriors who are bound to their iPads, accessing policies using that same mobile app (if available) is a no-brainer. Immediate access to current company policy on the device they’re carrying around anyway. And again, you don’t have to worry about any printed copies providing inaccurate direction in the future.

Printing policies is an immediate acceptance of risk on your part. The risk is that the printed copy you create today may be found by an employee in the future, after there are changes, and mistaken for current policy. Keep it online, within your compliance policy certification system, and you’ve eliminated that risk.

Next time you get ready to click the print button, consider whether there’s a way to solve the immediate need without accepting additional risk.

About the Author

John Peltier, Product Marketing Manager. John leads the product marketing efforts for The Network’s integrated governance, risk and compliance software suite and previously led the strategy and development efforts of our Policy Management and Learning Management Systems. He is an accomplished product professional, with over a decade of experience delivering solutions to business problems. He has spent three years in ethics and compliance, and previously spent nine years in healthcare.


  1. April 28, 2014 at 8:15 pm

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