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Forms Management and Policies and Procedures – Important? You Betcha!
Forms Management, Policies and Procedures: Important? Yes, definitely
Forms are critical to any organization’s operations, whether paper or electronic. Everyone uses forms in their daily lives from online surveys, shopping carts, feedback forms or even emails in the contact section of many websites. And paper forms are by no means dead. Paper forms are still used to apply for a driver’s license or complete your vehicle registration or deposit or withdraw money from your checking or savings account. Physical forms are everywhere.
Business forms are management tools that help record, communicate, and present business information. There are two ways to view the form: printed and electronic. A printed form is a document that contains instructions with repetitive information pre-printed in a fixed location to save time for recording and reference. An electronic form is a document that is stored on an electronic storage device and displayed on a computer monitor when necessary. Electronic forms can be designed with fields that resize as text is entered, drop-down menus, active buttons, and electronic forms can even be linked to a database that collects the information filled into the electronic form. However, remember that electronic forms can be exactly the same as printed forms, and in the case of a printed form saved in editable PDF format, which is now possible with the appropriate software.
Forms can reveal a lot about an organization
Forms can tell your customers a lot about your organization. For example, appearance alone can mean that a company is either old-fashioned or progressive. Ease of completion can mean the difference between renewed business and a customer moving elsewhere. In industries such as insurance and banking, this can be a significant problem. Since forms are often the lifeblood of an organization, a good forms management department can make all the difference in your company’s strategic direction, vision and mission.
I remember seeing a visitor form crudely created on a typewriter in the corporate office of a major film company. The uniform projected a bad image of the company. If I were a customer of this large company, I would certainly wonder why the company didn’t take the time to create a professional looking form that every potential customer would have to fill out upon entering the building.
Forms management is vital to policies and procedures
Forms management is equally important for policy and procedure developers. In fact, in many companies the policies and procedures department either manages the forms management department and/or the policy and procedures writer is also the forms manager. This relationship is important because most procedures contain references to forms in one way or another. In my experience, forms play an important role in policies and procedures. Keep in mind that there may also be forms processes as well as policies and procedures processes. If the author does a good job, the process systems will be connected or integrated.
You cannot write policies and procedures without FIRST analyzing the forms system
Over the years, I have analyzed and developed forms used in a process before interviewing users of a policy and procedure system. In some cases, I would even order the forms before the analysis of policies and procedures is complete. This method has proven invaluable to me because once the form system has been analyzed and streamlined, the policy or procedure falls into place.
DO NOT make this big mistake!
The biggest mistake many policy and procedure writers make is to write the policy or procedure first and then ask the forms management department to adapt the content contained in the published policy or procedure document. This is such a big mistake and it certainly doesn’t help buy-in systems. The work of form managers and policy and procedure writers go hand in hand; there should be no exceptions to this relationship.
Fitting forms into a policy or procedure
I am a strong advocate that a form image and form instructions should be included as an appendix to the policy or procedure. In the case of electronic forms, a link can be placed in a policy or procedure, which will open a new window with a sample form and/or the form itself for download or printing.
Unfortunately, many policy and procedure writers are unaware of the forms and simply refer to the form by name and number, or worse, by name only; and then they leave it up to the reader to find the link to the form. I found this practice so wrong for several reasons. For example:
- The form will never be searched or used
- A reader will ask a friend for a form and will most likely receive an outdated form that may have been sitting on a friend’s desk or drawer for months, if not years.
- The form may be abbreviated PR and the user may not be able to recognize the source of the form. For example, it is the abbreviation PR, purchase requisition or some kind of PR document.
Arguments against the practice of incorporating a form into a policy or procedure
While I’m a big fan of embedding a form image into a policy or procedure, there are several arguments against this practice, none of which I agree with:
- A READER SAYS: If I embed a form image in a policy or procedure, every time the form changes, the policy or procedure will have to be reissued. While this may be a true statement, the policy and procedure writer should be willing to rewrite the policy or procedure because a change in form also involves changing one or more of the processes that form the basis of the policy or procedure document.
- A READER SAYS: Why would I insert an image of a form when I can link to the form in the forms directory? That way, if the form needs to change, the link will stay the same, and then I won’t have to change the policy or procedure every time the form changes. This argument has two problems: (1) the same argument above applies that when a form changes, the content of a policy or procedure must also change and (2) I have found that a company rarely has the resources to maintain a catalog of forms so how it should be supported. Therefore, I would agree with this argument if the catalog of forms is maintained regularly and if the person maintaining the catalog is in close contact with the authors of the policies and procedures so that any change to the form can be analyzed to determine whether it affects current policies and procedures that use this form.
Search Sources Help Understanding Forms
The most important association in the United States is the Business Forms Management Association, BFMA.org. Its members are offered seminars, conferences, workshops and books. I highly recommend you check out their website, give them a call, join and attend the conference. A conference or two will open the eyes of any policy and procedure writer. A whole new world will open before them.
The author of policies and procedures should learn from this article and take responsibility for the forms management department, if one exists. And if the department does exist and politics prevents it from taking over this function, then I suggest that the author establish a good relationship with the forms management department and start working together.
And if the forms department doesn’t exist, go out and get the training you need to add that functionality to the policies and procedures department. The author of the policy and procedures must take responsibility and:
- Consider how to create attractive, effective forms that will enhance the organization’s image and complement the policies and procedures it influences and/or supports.
- Consider how you can work closely with the forms department and/or forms developers to ensure that the forms systems complement the policy and procedures system, and vice versa.
- Consider how you can best serve policy and procedure readers and write effective policies and procedures that use effective forms.
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