Do You Know the Criteria for Creating a Policy Versus Procedure?

The Great Debate: Do You Know the Criteria for Creating a Policy Versus Procedure?

Written by ComplianceBridge Policies & Procedures Team on September 19, 2023

The world of policy management can be confusing because it includes both policies and procedures. While some people may conflate these two terms, they are distinct. Understanding the difference and using each type of document accurately is imperative for organizing your policy library and ensuring information is easy to find. Failing to understand when to create a policy or procedure can negatively impact how you communicate certain information, creating confusion. What are the criteria for creating a policy versus procedure?

In this article you will discover the essential differences between policies and procedures and learn how to determine which one best suits your organization’s needs. While offering a comprehensive comparison, with practical guidelines on assessing factors such as the level of detail required, the intended audience, and the desired outcome, we provide examples to help you understand when to choose a policy or procedure, focusing on aspects like the scope of the topic, communication methods, and the role of documentation in enhancing your organization’s efficiency and compliance.

Establishing the Difference Between a Policy and a Procedure 

First, we need to define terms so that we can establish the difference between a policy and a procedure. Once we have defined terms, we can explore the criteria for creating a policy versus procedure. Let’s begin with defining policy.

What are policies? 

Policies are high-level guidelines or principles that provide a framework for decision-making and establish an organization’s expectations, values, and culture. They outline the organization’s stance on specific topics and serve as a reference point for employees, stakeholders, and external parties. Policies typically address broader issues and set the direction for how certain situations should be handled within an organization.

What are procedures?

Procedures are detailed, step-by-step instructions that outline how specific tasks or processes should be carried out within an organization. They provide clear and specific guidelines for employees to follow when per se forming their duties, define the actions, responsibilities, and sequence of steps required to accomplish a particular task or achieve a specific outcome.

Their differences

Policies and procedures differ in scope; while policies focus on broad issues, guidelines, and principles, procedures focus on specific tasks, processes, and workflows. They also differ on applicability; policies apply to a wide range of situations, as opposed to procedures, which are often specific to particular roles, departments, or processes. Additionally, they differ in purpose; whereas policies ensure decision making that aligns with an organization’s mission and values, procedures ensure consistency in performing tasks. Finally, they differ in flexibility; policies are usually more flexible, allowing for interpretation based on the situation, while procedures are meant to ensure uniformity and minimize variations.

The Criteria for Creating a Policy Versus Procedure

Policies and procedures might sound pretty different according to their definitions, but when faced with a real world situation, it can be hard to determine whether the scenario necessitates a policy or a procedure. Let’s consider a dress code policy for example.

Determining the Level of Detail Required

What is the level of clarity and communication needed to ensure employees understand the expectations? A policy may provide a high-level overview of the dress code, allowing employees to exercise some judgment; this requires effective communication and frequent reminders to ensure compliance. A procedure with detailed instructions leaves less room for interpretation but requires clear communication of the specific requirements.

Determining the Intended Audience and Stakeholders

When onboarding and training new employees, a policy may suffice if the dress code guidelines are straightforward and easy to explain. If the dress code requirements are more complex or require specific demonstrations (proper use of personal protective equipment), a procedure with detailed training materials and practical demonstrations would be better for employees.

Evaluating the Desired Outcome and Objectives

If there is a requirement for consistent adherence and potential consequences for non-compliance, a procedure would provide clear instructions and facilitate enforcement. A policy relies more on promoting a culture of self-regulation and trust, which may require less enforcement.

Balancing Flexibility and Standardization Needs

If an organization wants to provide some level of flexibility and discretion to employees in choosing their attire while still maintaining a professional appearance, a policy may be more suitable. If an organization requires employees to wear a specific uniform and meet certain standards, a procedure could be necessary to provide explicit guidelines for various situations or job roles.

Consider Your Culture and Values

If the organization emphasizes individuality, creativity, or a more relaxed atmosphere, a policy that allows for flexibility in attire choices may align better. If your organization has a more formal or conservative culture, a procedure with specific clothing requirements will help to maintain a consistent and professional image.

Assess Legal Requirements

Certain industries, such as healthcare or food services, may have strict hygiene or safety regulations that dictate specific attire. In these cases, a procedure with clear instructions would be more appropriate over a policy. If there are no regulations applicable to the dress code, a policy may be the best option.

When Do You Choose a Policy? 

Having defined the terms and established the criteria for creating a policy versus procedure, let’s review when to choose a policy as opposed to a procedure. A policy creates guidelines and principles for decision-making; it provides high-level direction, overarching rules, and expectations, which are driven by an organization’s values and culture. In short, a policy is driven by the answer to the question of “Why?” Why does our organization elect to make decisions this way? Answer: Because our organization has the following values and these guidelines foster the desired culture.

Policies usually answer the questions of who, what, when and/or where. For example, a company policy may dictate that when processing an order for a client (when), the employee processing the order (who) must leave a remark in the ERP ???? system (what). This policy exists because we value transparency and clear, concise, communication in a centralized location (why). Exactly how to do that would be detailed in a procedure. A company policy may state that employees (who) must be at their desk (where) and clocked in by 8:00 AM EST (when). This policy exists because we value our clients on the east coast who are dependent upon our availability and early accessibility (why). Exactly how to use the time reporting system would be spelled out in a procedure.

When Do You Choose a Procedure? 

Procedures stand out as detailed road maps, offering step-by-step instructions for tasks and operations to ensure consistency. In essence, they answer the question of “How?”: How should our employees tackle this specific task or role? The solution: strictly adhere to the outlined procedure. While a company policy might highlight the need to enter a remark in the ERP ??? system, the procedure illuminates exactly how to do so, possibly providing comprehensive instructions and relevant screenshots. This might specify the inclusion of the employee ID number, date, and a brief description of the transaction in a certain order. The criteria for creating a policy versus procedure are distinct: while policies set the “why” and “what”, procedures elucidate the “how”, ensuring uniformity and reducing discrepancies.

For instances where a policy indicates when an employee should clock in, the procedure would furnish the intricate steps for using the time reporting system, perhaps supplemented with a flowchart and snapshots of the interface.

Creating Policies and Procedures is Fast and Easy With ComplianceBridge

Having a clearer understanding of the criteria for creating a policy versus procedure will improve your policy management capabilities immensely and improve how you communicate these ideas to employees at every level of your organization. Now that you know what you need to create, the next question is: how? Our software centralizes and streamlines the creation of new policies and procedures. All stakeholders work on and review a single document, which eliminates the need to reconcile multiple versions. We also use templates for faster creation and standardization. Other features include version history so that you always know which changes were made when and by whom along with tailored review workflows and Microsoft 365 integration (

Request a demo with ComplianceBridge today and see how we can help you excel in the realm of policy management and assist in the creation of these documents to catapult your organization to the top of its game.

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