What Is the Difference Between a Policy & a Procedure?

by Mackenzie Maxwell - Updated October 25, 2018

Sometimes the idea of compiling policies and procedures can seem overwhelming. However, a fundamental understanding of this document and its purpose can help. The first step is learning the definition of these terms and what makes them different.

Tips

  • A policy provides a broad overview of the company's goal. A procedure shows employees exactly what they need to do to achieve the goal.

Policy vs. Process

The main difference between a policy and a procedure is what it communicates to your staff. A policy gives an overview of the company's stance on an issue. A process or policy gives employees directions on how to implement the policy.

Any policy at your business should be concise and simple. It should convey a clear goal that even a brand-new employee can understand. Only policies that follow these guidelines can keep your business on track.

The procedures then support the policies that you have in place. The process should be clear and cover almost any variation of a problem. For example, a return procedure should include what to do if the customer has a receipt, does not have proof of purchase or has used the item in question. Bullet points and short paragraphs can make the process easy to read and heed.

An Example to Follow

IT guidelines and procedures are important in many businesses. A common policy is that employees should not access social media during work. The guidelines may say that the company welcomes employees to access social media during breaks or when it is necessary for their work functions.

The procedures to enforce that policy may include ways to report inappropriate computer use and steps that supervisors can take to stop the behavior. You may outline the chain of command that these reports should follow and what employees can expect if they continue to violate the policy.

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Types of Guidelines

You should create procedures and policies for every area of your business. When employees have questions about how to interact with clients, one another, management or equipment, they should be able to consult the guidelines.

Many companies have overarching employee-conduct policies that set rules for how staff should dress, act and perform at work. Other important areas to cover are discipline, equal treatment, sexual harassment, attendance, job performance and workplace safety.

Not Always One-to-One

Procedures often back up company policies. However, there is not always a one-to-one ratio of processes and procedures. For example, you may create policies dictating that your staff must be free of illegal substance use, should never sexually harass other employees and cannot take money from the register. Then, you may have one procedure that covers how to handle any reports of these behaviors.

Why Create Procedures and Policies

Any business with employees needs policies and procedures to guide workers. These guidelines help ensure that everyone in a company responds the same way to the same event. This consistency allows you, the business owner, to step away sometimes. You can take on other tasks and even have a day off when you know that your employees can take care of business.

It can also keep customers coming back and build a positive brand image. For example, customers who experience different return policies every time they come in may cultivate negative feelings about your brand. However, clients who know what to expect know that they can count on your business.

Protect Your Business

Another reason to write out clear policy and procedure guidelines is to protect your company from legal action. A prominent example of this is disciplinary guidelines. You should outline employee expectations, disciplinary processes and when you will have to dismiss staff members.

Follow your process every time an employee violates your policies. If you have to remove someone from your staff, you can keep wrongful termination lawsuits at bay. Documenting your process gives you evidence that you acted lawfully.

About the Author

Mackenzie Maxwell is a small business owner. She has two businesses, including a martial arts gym in Texas. Prior to building her own, Mackenzie worked with small businesses and organizations to create effective marketing - from churches to insurance companies. She enjoys helping businesses with the startup spirit grow. Mackenzie has been writing in this field for six years and shows no signs of slowing.

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