What’s more important for the process success — explaining why one should perform it or how exactly they can achieve it?
Hopefully, you say “both” — ‘cause that’s what this article’s all about.
Policies are the why behind the fundamental processes in your company. Procedures, on the other hand, are the what and how of every internal process. Policies and procedures can exist independently, but a lot of the time, they go hand-in-hand.
In this guide, we’ve clarified the relationship between policies and procedures and provided you with a simple (and fast) process to create ones.
Read on to discover:
- How policies and procedures differ.
- How these two are combined.
- What makes successful policies and procedures.
- Three templates to reduce stress from policy and procedure creation.
- How to create policies and procedures fast.
What are policies & procedures?
Let’s start with the basics.
What is a policy?
A policy is a system of rules and principles determining an organization or team’s course of action.
Policies regulate certain business processes, like internal communication, change management, accounting operations, etc.
Examples of policies are a(n):
- Code of conduct.
- Vacation policy.
- Health and safety policy.
- Anti-discrimination policy.
- Social media policy.
What is a procedure?
A procedure is an established method of performing a business operation. Documenting procedures is the best way to standardize repetitive actions and achieve consistent results.
Written standard operating procedures (SOPs) usually offer guidelines on accomplishing very specific tasks in the form of step-by-step instructions, hierarchical processes or flowcharts.
These are just some procedure examples:
- IT hardware request procedure.
- New hire onboarding procedure.
- Customer complaint handling procedure.
- Lead scoring procedure.
- Support ticket submission procedure.
How do policies differ from procedures?
Most often, policies include procedures. On the contrary, procedures are self-sufficient without policies. So how do you draw the line between these two?
Here’s a simple breakdown of the key distinguishing features of policies and procedures.
Do you really need both policies & procedures?
In short… yep!
Every company needs established policies and procedures to function smoothly.
While policies define the rules to comply with (e.g., anti-discrimination policies describe acceptable and unacceptable behavior for employees), procedures feature the steps to take to translate these principles into life (e.g., how to act if you spot discrimination in the workplace).
Policies and procedures have one common feature — they create standards for everyone to follow. Without those standards, you can hardly align people’s actions and achieve consistent results at work.
6 features of effective policies & procedures
When documenting policies and procedures, you can’t just copy and paste the ones you’ve found on the web.
Well, you can. But that’s usually no better than having no policies and procedures at all. So once you’ve chosen your templates, make sure to make them specific and useful.
Great policies and procedures are:
Avoid long introductions and cliches.
It’s especially important to mind when you work on policies. Often, organizations develop policies only because the law requires them. They copy something from the web, customize it slightly and publish it somewhere their employees will never try to look.
That’s why it’s usually so difficult to read through an organization’s policies. That’s why employees have little to no understanding of what their company’s policies are.
Instead of publishing walls of text that nobody wants to wade through, be straightforward in your policies and procedures.
2. Written in plain language
Jargon is the second biggest problem of policies and procedures.
If you expect your employees to actually use the documentation, write it in plain language. Here are some rules to keep in mind:
- Cut jargon.
- Include a glossary to provide definitions for terms and acronyms.
- Use active voice.
- Write in short sentences.
- Replace ambiguous words with concrete language (e.g. use “must” instead of “shall”).
- Keep the end reader in mind.
Regardless of the topics covered, your policies and procedures should be easily accessible and understandable.
For easy navigation, your documentation should follow an established structure. Break down your policies and procedures into sections; separate them with headings and proper formatting.
It’s good to have one layout to use across all your files. Later on, we’ll provide a specific outline you can follow in your policies and procedures.
If your documentation is too generic, people won’t use it. To check whether your policies and procedures are specific enough, make sure they answer these questions:
- Who is this file for?
- Who is affected by the policy or procedure?
- Who is responsible for enforcing this policy or procedure?
- When is it applicable?
- Why is it important to comply with it?
- What will happen if the guidelines provided are not followed?
Once you’re able to answer the questions above, you can rest assured your documentation speaks exactly to the people it’s intended for.
Consistency is the key to properly adopting your policies and procedures.
Follow these tips to keep your documentation consistent.
- Develop repeatable, consistent workflows. It’s not only about what you include in your policies and procedures. It’s also how you approach the entire process. Build workflows for creating and adopting new documentation to remove the guesswork and achieve consistent results.
- Establish a naming convention. Create a framework defining how all documents should be named to distinguish the files easily.
- Follow a clear structure. Use a template to build all your policies and procedures upon.
- Create a standard writing format. Guidelines for format and style will help different contributors create documentation that feels harmonious.
Sound policies and procedures are regularly revised and updated to ensure their content is always fresh and relevant.
It particularly relates to procedures, as they’re way less static than policies. In a growing company, business operations are undergoing continuous changes, and so are procedures.
Both policies and procedures should be flexible enough so that you can adjust them and introduce new standards to your team whenever it’s needed.
Policy & procedure outline
Now we know that a solid outline creates the ground for great policies and procedures.
These are typical components for a policy and procedure outline (yet they’re rarely all used in one file):
- Policy title. A short descriptive name of the policy per an established naming convention.
- Identification. Details on who and when created, reviewed and updated the policy.
- Introduction. An overview of the policy.
- Context. Prerequisites for developing the policy.
- Statement. Declaration of the intentions of the policy.
- Purpose. The ultimate objective of the policy.
- Applicability. Information on who the policy is for and when it’s applicable.
- Definitions. An explanation of terms, acronyms and jargon.
- Policy: A set of rules regulating the process stated.
- Procedure title. The name of the procedure that helps to comply with the policy.
- Procedure. The actual steps to live to the policy.
- References. Additional information that helps to better understand the policy and procedure.
Policy & procedure templates
Finally, meet the templates.
Note: We’ve built the templates using Scribe Pages. While Scribe automatically turns any process into a step-by-step guide, Scribe Pages allow you to combine those processes on one page and add more text and videos to the Page.
Use this to build your policies and procedures in no time!
1. Technology procurement policy and procedure
Check out the template here.