Policy vs Procedures - Understanding The Key Difference

The Key Difference Between Policies vs. Procedures

Written by ComplianceBridge Policies & Procedures Team on June 28, 2017

All businesses and organizations comprise a set of policies and procedures, though not every business has gone through the effort of writing them down. Policies set strategic direction of a company while procedures outline the steps to accomplish short-term goals. Even if a company does not have a written set of policies and procedures, most have implemented ad hoc rules and work processes over time for employees to follow.

This article describes the differences between policy vs procedures, why you should formalize them, and provides a few examples to help illustrate the benefits.

Company policy and standard procedures: United in effort

Going out of your way to define your company’s policies and procedures is worth the time commitment. Policies and procedures interact together as the cohesive basis for efficient and effective operations within an organization. With a formal document describing all policies and procedures, staff can operate with more autonomy. Using the documentation as reference to empower decision-making, reducing managerial workflow bottlenecks.

With clear policy documentation, employees will know what is and isn’t accepted at the company. Clear direction and little room for misinterpretation leads to better performing, happy employees. And with a set of procedures for every type of assignment, they know exactly what they should be doing every step of the way (1).

If you are interested in formalizing your own set of policies and procedures, it helps to first understand the differences between the two concepts.

Policies vs. Procedures: A matter of consistency and iteration

The key difference between a policy and procedure is in the outcome. For instance, a policy defines a set of rules like workplace conduct, whereas a procedure defines the steps you should take to onboard a new employee (see Table 1).

Policies are meant to remain static: they are mission-oriented rules or terms that often describe what and why. In contrast, procedures are narrow in focus. Procedures aim to describe how, when, and who of processes.

Table 1. Policies vs. Procedures (from reference 2).

Policies Procedures
Have widespread application Have a narrower focus
Are non-negotiable, change infrequently Are subject to change and continuous improvement
Are expressed in broad terms Are a more detailed description of activities
Are statements of what and/or why Are statements of how, when and/or who & sometimes what
Answer major operational issues Detail a process

Policies and procedures in action

Let’s look at a few examples, starting with online shopping. Online shopping venue, Company A, guarantees that their products can be delivered to a customer within 24 hours of order placement. What are the policies and procedures associated with this directive?

The primary policy is “products must be delivered to the customer within 24 hours from the point a customer places an order.” This policy is broken into two labor components: staff will prepare the order for delivery while managers monitor the process.

The procedures are specific about how this process will be accomplished. For example:

Jim will fill orders in categories A, B, and C. Jen will fill orders in categories X, Y, and Z. John will supervise to ensure timely delivery. If an employee is sick, the manager on duty should call Sarah to ask her to substitute for that person.

From reference 3.

Let’s look at another example, this time a fire drill. Fire departments require schools and businesses to hold fire drills at specific intervals. A potential policy is that each school must hold a fire drill each month. The process involves classroom teachers leading students outside to the schoolyard, while school principals oversee the process. The detailed procedures could break up the process as follows:

Teachers located in Hall A will lead students out of the building through Door A. Teachers in Hall B will lead students out of the building through Door B. Staff members who are not teaching a class at that time will exit the building via the nearest door and help to supervise students outside. The last person to leave a room must turn off the light and close the door behind him or her.

From reference 3.

Automating your policies and procedures

Staying compliant requires knowing who has and has not viewed and acknowledged the various policies and procedures at your organization. Although a single person can manage such a task for a small team, the same cannot be said for larger companies. For this reason, ComplianceBridge offers a platform that presents a concise document life cycle that automates everything.

With the ComplianceBridge Policy and Procedure Management software, you can import and create documents that can be easily reviewed and approved by various stakeholders. Once each document passes through the appropriate checks, you can publish and notify the respective members of the organization about its existence—all within the platform. These individuals can then go on to view and acknowledge each document as well as take tests of your design. Finally, the robust metrics and reporting tools enable you to quickly gauge your compliance and spot areas requiring your attention. And instead of sending out dozens of individual e-mail reminders, you have a powerful reminder system that automatically sends out regular reminders and even escalates notifications on your behalf.

Interested learning more about the ComplianceBridge platform? Take a tour.


  1. “What’s the Difference Between Policies and Procedures?” Bizmanualz. November 02, 2016. Accessed June 14, 2017. https://www.bizmanualz.com/write-better-policies/whats-the-difference-between-policies-and-procedures.html.
  2. “Determining Whether a Statement is a Policy or a Procedure.” University of California Policy Process. http://www.ucop.edu/ethics-compliance-audit-services/_files/policy-toolkit/policy-or-procedure.pdf.
  3. “What are Policies vs. Processes vs. Procedures.” TightShip. February 12, 2015. Accessed June 14, 2017. http://www.tightship.io/policies-vs-processes-vs-procedures/.
  4. “Powerful Policy Management Software from ComplianceBridge.” ComplianceBridge. Accessed June 14, 2017. http://compliancebridge.com/products/policy-management-software/.
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