Document Management - So Much Paper, So Little Value
In my (too many) years of auditing and consulting it still amazes me why organisations spend so much time and money documenting their compliance systems – and in doing so, thinking that the compliance job is done.
The reality is that such documents will probably only be used 4 times in their short lifetime, before the next great idea comes along and the whole system is rewritten.
These 4 instances are:
- When a new employee starts as part of their induction
- When the internal audit is due
- When the external auditor arrives
- When something goes wrong and someone asks “what does the procedure say?”
Sure, these events are important – and certainly warrant the creation of such documents – but not to the extent that most organisations invest in them.
So why do they spend so much time writing these great works of art?
It’s because they (wrongly) think that, in doing so, they are not only proving their compliance but also creating significant value. In fact neither of these perceptions hold true.
As anyone worth their salt will tell you, it’s the output that actually creates the value – not the input. And as for the view that such documents prove compliance, well that’s just plain dumb.
Companies spend so much time drafting, approving and reviewing procedures so they sound just right that any opportunities from their outputs are lost.
They also believe that if they have a large amount of documents with lots of words, then they must be compliant.
So how does a company turn a paper-producing activity into a meaningful activity that adds value and reduces costs?
Simple … they need to:
- Make their procedures thin and meaningful and ensure they focus on the value-added outputs. Ensure they reflect what they do as an organisation – rather than trying to align to standards, clause-by-clause.
- Remember who the reader is – there’s really no point having a complicated document control and approval system unless you’re NASA.
- Use a good compliance software tool that is output-focused, not document-control focused.
And if you think any of this advice is going to cause you grief with your auditor, think again. Auditors are looking for evidence – not documentation.
Remember, compliance is about saying it; doing it – and then proving it.
So if you only say it – but don’t do it or can’t prove it – you’re (quite rightly) going to get a hard time from your auditor.
If you must feed your paper habit, your compliance system isn’t the place to do it. Try origami instead – I hear it’s a lot more fun.