People generally need structure.
It provides a framework for an environment of basic understanding and opportunity to thrive. In organizations, policies and procedures serve employees with that simple foundation.
A policy is a formal guidance or rule to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes. It’s needed to coordinate and execute activity throughout a company. When effectively deployed, policy statements help focus attention and resources on high priority issues. They align and merge efforts to successfully achieve a business vision. Policy provides the operational framework within which the business functions.
Policies are typically written to cover topics of widespread application. They change less frequently, as they are considered the agreed upon standard within an entity. Usually, policies are expressed in broad terms and cover the “what” and the “why” of any given area. Policies also answer some of the operational issues related to the topic at hand.
On the other hand, a procedure typically supports a policy. It is a method for performing a task or a fixed, step-by-step sequence of activities. Procedures cover the operational processes required to implement a policy into action. Operating practices can be formal or informal, specific to a department, building or applicable across an entire business unit. If policy is “what” an organization does operationally, then it’s procedures are “how” it intents to carry out those operating policy expressions.
Procedures cover a topic in a more narrow application. They are typically prone to change as a business grows or adapts. Procedures, often referred to as “Standard Operating Procedures” or “SOPs” are stated in as much detail as is required to perform accurately and effectively. At length, it will describe a process and cover “how” something is done, “when” it should take place and/or “who” involved.
Both policies and procedures are necessary. Outside basic federal and local legal compliance, it is up to the organization how in depth both tools are utilized. Most importantly, both are tools that support your organizational practices and principles. Effective leaders do not lead by policy, rather refer to them as tools throughout their interdisciplinary leadership efforts.
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