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Four Generations of Policies & Procedures Communication

By Raymond E. Urgo

From which era are your organization’s policies and procedures (P&P) information derived or do they most resemble? Which era do you want them to resemble or do you want your work to reflect?

The styles, formats, and other characteristics of many P&P documents in today’s organizations tend to resemble those derived from past eras and usually unconsciously or by default — “because it’s always been done this way (or elsewhere) before.” For example, I have known one fast-growing, ten-year old, entrepreneurial company in the high-tech industry whose P&P resemble those of 40-year old highly bureaucratic companies in regulated industries, simply because they adopted a traditional approach out of convenience and ignorance. I know of instances whereby P&P specialists replicated their formats and styles from one company or industry into another. Nothing is wrong with any of these situations, except these organizations were unfortunately not taking full advantage of formats, styles, and characteristics more conducive and reflective of the communication needs of the times and the organization.

The purpose of this article is to present four eras for communicating P&P information (mostly in the United States) so you can discern which era your organization’s P&P information might resemble and see where it may evolve. Also, it is always helpful to have an understanding and an appreciation of the roots of one’s discipline.

My research, experience, and observations in P&P Communication lead me to identify four generations for this discipline. These four generations are summarized in the accompanied table. For each generation, the table shows two factors that I believe have and continue to have a significant influence on P&P communication: organizational characteristics of the era and the technology available during the era for developing and communicating P&P information.

Organizational characteristics of the eras address what the predominant focus and operating concerns were for organizations at the time. For example, during the 1950s emphasis was placed on auditing and controlling finances as a major resource, thereby making an accounting department a prime place for a mid-size company to host its P&P information development. The writing style of this era tends to be compliance based. By the 1980s, the emphasis shifted to managing information as a resource, thereby making an information systems department the likely host for a mid-size company’s P&P development. The writing style of this era tends to be either compliance or performance based depending upon the organization’s astuteness to the times.

The technology available for developing and communicating P&P information has influenced the who, the what, the how, and the where of how we have gone about designing, developing, communicating, organizing, storing, accessing, using, and even valuing P&P information. For example, manual and electric typewriters tend to limit information development to a serialist (beginning to end) approach for writing and reading information. Today’s word processing technology allows for both serialist and holist (multi-entries and exits) approaches for writing and reading information, thereby encouraging information to be modular or object oriented in design. Yet despite this breakthrough, many organizations continue to develop and publish P&P information designed primarily for serialist reading. Another example involves the use of certain online systems available on an organization’s intranet for communicating policies and procedures. Some of these systems are allowing users to do more than read; they allow users to offer feedback or input about the P&P information. These systems may also allow P&P specialists to receive reports about the usage of the P&P information. As a result, the value of these online systems has already begun creating a new and higher level of credibility for P&P information and for P&P specialists in organizations. Hence, we seem to be experiencing the dawn of a new era for P&P communication.

So where are you now? Where do you want to be? What’s next for you, your organization, your client, and P&P documentation? Your ideas, thoughts, and questions are welcomed by the author, the editor, or the P&P SIG listserv (stcppsig-l@lists.stc.org).

Raymond E. Urgo is the principal of Los Angeles-based Urgo & Associates, consulting to organizations and individuals on effective communication of policies and procedures. He is the founder and first manager of STC’s P&P SIG. He can be reached at rurgo@urgoconsulting.com.

Copyright 2003, Raymond E. Urgo
Urgo & Associates, Los Angeles

Four Generations of Policies & Procedures Communication
Years Era for Organizations Characteristics of Era Technology for Developing and Communicating P&P P&P Documentation Formats, Styles, Architectures, and Departmental Hosts


1920s thru 1930s

Productivity and efficiency management

  • Industrialization
  • Operations research and analysis
  • Productive efficiency
  • Workflow management
  • Drafting for graphics
  • Manual typewriter
  • (uncertain about formats and styles)
  • Workflow charts
  • Hosted by/with industrial engineering (probably)


1940s thru 1960s

Accountability and control management

  • Audit and control
  • Rise of legality
  • Rise of regulated industries
  • Managing people
  • Office and business management
  • Managing data and paperwork flow
  • Drafting for graphics
  • Manual typewriter
  • Mimeograph and electronic copier
  • Mainframe computer
  • Outline formats; prose style; playscript emerges; fewer flowcharts
  • Organized by organizational hierarchy, departments, business functions
  • Binders of disunited P&P documents (SOPs)
  • Hosted by/with finance, accounting, personnel


1970s thru 1980s

Information management

  • Managing data, information, paperwork
  • Quality management
  • Drafting for graphics
  • Electric typewriter
  • Electronic copier
  • Mainframe and personal computer
  • Word processing, document management, and online systems and software
  • Outline formats; prose style; playscript; flowcharts on increase
  • Organized by organizational hierarchy, departments, business functions
  • Binders of disunited P&P documents (SOPs)
  • Dawn of comprehensive manuals (united P&P)
  • Dawn of packaged procedures for purchase
  • Hosted by/with finance, information systems, human resources, quality, publications


1990s thru pres.

Performance, learning, and knowledge management

  • Learning organization
  • Knowledge worker
  • Intellectual capital
  • Performance improvement
  • Organizational Development
  • Focus on value added
  • Mainframe and personal computer
  • LAN, Web (Internet, intranet, extranet)
  • Word processing, PDF, desktop publishing, online, and graphics (including flowcharting) software
  • Online and document management systems
  • Modular, object oriented, graphics (flowcharts)
  • Organized by business processes and tasks
  • Comprehensive manuals (united information)
  • Stored and accessed on databases and Web
  • Interactive use of information and usage reports
  • Hosted by/with information systems, publications, human resources, quality, training

Copyright 2003, Raymond E. Urgo
Urgo & Associates www.urgoconsulting.com

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