Having spent over twenty years advising and working with colleges I have always been impressed by the degree of effort and rigour that they apply to making sure they have the right policies in place and that they are regularly reviewed and updated. Policies are seen, quite correctly, as a vital control mechanism. Indeed, in many colleges, they are seen as so vital that one person is designated as effectively the Policies Champion. This may be the Clerk. This person will liaise with various functional managers periodically and task them with reviewing and updating College policies. However, policies cannot be effective if not backed up by sound and effective processes.
Policies deal with what should be done, processes deal with how it should be done. One cannot be effective without the other.
When something goes wrong, it is quite normal for a check to be carried out to see if the relevant policy has been followed. In other words, to see if the agreed process that underpins it has been followed. Therein lies the vital link between the policy and the process. The policy is unlikely to be followed if the process that underpins it is unworkable.
Since the start of the pandemic, we have received increasing requests from colleges who want to learn more about our process mapping service. There have been two stimuli to this escalation in demand, 1) the need to find ways of carrying out work remotely that was previously undertaken in college and 2) the need to make the college as efficient as possible to help in making the books balance.
It is a pity that it has taken a pandemic to force this realisation that a review of processes is a good idea. Perhaps one reason, in the past for the reluctance to review processes regularly was the way such reviews had to be done. They would usually involve an external firm being commissioned to undertake the review and develop the process maps. This was seen as quite expensive and disruptive, so was not a regular event.
We now have the ability, with cloud-based process mapping, for colleges to develop maps in-house. This makes reviewing and updating them straightforward and makes it possible for this to be undertaken by college personnel. There is no longer a need for an expensive consultancy project as was once the case. Therefore, there is no longer an obstacle to process reviews taking place on a regular basis. They can be reviewed just as often as policies. Indeed, it is our view that processses should be reviewed more frequently than policies. Processes typically change much more frequently than policies.
Process reviews leading to the development of process maps are, in my opinion, vitally important for all colleges. The evidence of the past year and a half tells me that colleges are now realising this. However, although the methods now being used to develop processes are light years ahead of how it was twenty years ago, process maps are only as good as the review process to which they themselves are subject.
That’s why we are advising our clients to follow their existing practice on policies and recognise the equal importance of processes. We are advising them to designate someone as the Process Management Champion. Just as it is with the review of policies, the Process Management Champion would rely upon the various functional specialists to contribute to the review.
So, to summarise:
- Policies are undoubtedly a vital control mechanism
- They are only as good as the processes that underpin them
- Both policies and processes should be regularly reviewed and updated as together they offer the Perfect Solution!
Malcolm Cooper, MD, MCA Cooper Associates