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Policies and Procedures: what is the difference?

Well-defined Policies and Procedures can help your business to grow because they enhance your employees’ ability to deliver consistent, high caliber service without dramatically increasing the burden of employee management responsibilities on you.

Despite this generally accepted truth, it is surprising how many companies do not have Policies and Procedures in place that are easy to read and allow employees to clearly understand their roles and responsibilities.  Compliance policy documents in particular are usually full of legal jargon that makes it difficult to read – or just plain boring. They are there to “tick the box”.  Hardly anyone reads them.

One of the biggest problems with these documents is the fact that there is usually not a clear differentiation between a policy and a procedure.

What is a Policy?

A ‘Policy’ is broad and sets out a predetermined course of action. It provides a guide towards accepted business strategies and objectives. In other words, it is a direct link between an organisation’s ‘vision’ and its day-to-day operations.

The Policy sets out the following:

  • The general company rules based on its values, e.g. “It is our policy to always compete fairly.”
  • The reasons why these rules exist
  • An outline of when the rules apply
  • A description of the stakeholders who must comply with the rules and how compliance will be enforced
  • The consequences for breaking the rules

It is normally written using simple sentences and paragraphs.

What is a Procedure?

A ‘Procedure’ provides a clear and easily understood plan of action required to carry out or implement a policy.

The Procedure should:

  • Identify specific actions
  • Explain when to take actions
  • Describe alternatives
  • Show emergency procedures
  • Include warnings and cautions
  • Give examples
  • Explain and show how to complete forms, where relevant

It is normally written using bullets/steps in an outline format.

Clearly written Policies and Procedures allow managers to exercise control by exception rather than ‘micro-manage’ their staff. These documents send a “We Care!” message: ‘The company wants us to be successful at our jobs.’

If you find that your employees are inconsistent in their job performance and experience an increase in stress levels, take a good look at your policies and procedures.  They may be the reason why your employees are struggling.

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