Policy vs Procedures - Understanding The Key Difference

The Key Difference Between Policy vs. Procedures

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

Policies and procedures are the foundations of your company. Even if they’re not written down, policies and procedures define your organization and ensure that things are running smoothly. For best results, however, both policies and procedures should be written down and codified to avoid misunderstandings or inefficiencies. There are lots of “policy and procedure” softwares out there to help you and your company put those rules and processes down and share them with employees; in practice, what are the differences between policy vs procedures and how will a policy and procedure software help manage them?

Defining Policies

Policies are the big, overarching tenets of your organization. They set direction, guide and influence decision-making. Policies guide the day-to-day actions and strategies, but allow for flexibility – the big keyword for policies is “guiding”. They establish a framework of management philosophies, aims and objectives. Policy can be driven by business philosophy, competition, marketplace pressure, law or regulation and in many cases all of these.

Company policies tend to have topics such as social media use, sick time and paid leave, acceptable work behavior and codes of conduct, employee onboarding and termination, workplace discrimination and proper certifications and licensing among a plethora of other topics, some specific to your business.

Defining Procedures

Procedures have a narrow focus; they describe, step by step, what actions to take in specific instances. Procedures have a beginning and an end and should be strictly followed to achieve the desired outcome. The cyclical nature and uniformity of a procedure are vitally important for training new employees, compliance, process improvement and auditing.

Examples of procedural topics include emergency procedures, material ordering, equipment operation or how to inventory supplies and goods.

Policy vs Procedures: Some Key Differences

When it comes to creating, updating and implementing your policies and procedures, there are some key differences.

  • Change infrequently
  • State who,what when or why
  • Are broad and general


  • Continuously change and improve
  • State what, how, when or who
  • Offer a detailed description of activities

When it comes to creating your policies and procedures, it’s important to understand what each pertains to and what the goal of each is. Your company policy on meetings should not contain a specific script to follow, just as your procedure for inventory shouldn’t only contain “count the objects”. It’s also important to understand how often each should be updated, since your policy and procedure software should be able to handle the continuously updated procedures your organization is putting out and the evergreen policies at the same time.

For example, in a public school there may be a policy that a fire drill should be held once a month; this is a broad statement, and will be unlikely to change. The fire drill procedure states where each classroom should go in the case of a fire drill, noting specific routes and offering alternatives; as the drills are run, it is likely that the procedure will change and improve.

Who is involved in procedure writing?

Procedure writing involves a collaborative effort among individuals from various levels of the organization. This typically includes managers from different departments who are responsible for overseeing the daily operations of their respective teams. Additionally, team leaders and key employees play an essential role in contributing to the development of procedures to ensure clear and effective communication. The HR department also plays a crucial role by offering insights and feedback on ethical considerations related to the procedures being drafted. Hence, the process of creating procedures often requires the involvement of a diverse team with expertise in different areas to ensure comprehensive and well-thought-out documentation.

Which comes first: policy or procedure?

In determining the order of creation between policy and procedure, it is generally recommended to establish policies first. Policies serve as the fundamental guidelines that outline an organization’s objectives and overall direction. Once these overarching principles are defined, procedures can then be developed to provide specific and detailed instructions on how activities should be carried out in alignment with the established policies. Therefore, policies should be crafted before procedures to ensure that operations are conducted efficiently and effectively within the framework set by the organization’s strategic direction.

Putting Policies and Procedures to Work

Do not think in the mindset of policy vs procedures. In order to thrive, a company needs to have both, not simply one or the other. Policies look at the big picture, while procedures detail individual processes. Both have their place in the day-to-day function of your organization and the success of employees.

Because these concepts are so important, it’s vital that your employees know both policies and procedures of your company and when to implement them. Policy and procedure software, such as ComplianceBridge, help you make that happen. Having your files in a cloud-based system means that your employees will always have access to the information they need, when they need it.

When it comes to policy and procedure creation, ComplianceBridge offers a workflow feature that allows you to send documents through rigorous review, with all of your reviewers offering insight and allowing you to easily send a new version once revisions have been accepted. Once a policy or procedure has been approved, ComplianceBridge will help you communicate it to the right audience – not every office or group will need to know the correct procedure for inventory, after all, and it will save your employees’ time not to wade through documents that don’t apply to them.

The ever-updating and improving procedures you create will benefit from version control – your employees will always open a procedure document to the most recent one. You can rest assured that your employees aren’t following outdated guidelines.

One of the most important features that ComplianceBridge offers is the ability to test your employees for comprehension. You are able to create tests for employees to take after reading through a document to ensure they’ve properly digested the information. This is very helpful for promoting communication and inefficiency within your organization while assuring your compliance.

Another feature that helps promote compliance is tracking – ComplianceBridge will let you know who has read the policy or procedure, tested and passed, and more importantly, who hasn’t completed those tasks. At that point, you can take advantage of ComplianceBridge’s automated reminder feature, which increases in frequency the longer the task is unfinished, or escalates up the employees management tree.

These are just some of the benefits a policy and procedure software like ComplianceBridge can offer you – request a demo today!

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