Policy vs. Procedure: What’s the Difference?

BY IT GLUE | August 08, 2023

Well-written policies and procedures are crucial for the success of any business organization. Both documents promote smooth operations and ensure brand consistency. While it isn’t uncommon to see people use the terms policies and procedures synonymously, both play different roles in an organization’s success. That’s why they must be documented individually to achieve the desired business goals.

In this blog, we’ll explore the distinct attributes of policies and procedures and how you can make the most out of them with proper documentation.

What is the difference between a policy and a procedure?

The purpose of these documents is to explain what an organization wants to happen and how to make it happen. While policies don’t provide step-by-step processes for completing a task, procedures offer detailed instructions on completing specific tasks. In other words, procedures focus on the steps you must take to ensure compliance while policies just outline the overall organizational rules.

Let’s say you are creating a BYOD policy for users working with their devices. This policy will outline whether users can work with their devices and what approvals they need. Procedures, on the other hand, will focus on implementing the BYOD policy via a step-by-step process, including ensuring proper security, installing solutions, dealing with security incidents, accessing organizational files and more.

What is a policy?

A policy is a formal standard that provides direction on how an organization can go about its operations regarding a specific topic. In other words, policies are overarching guidelines on what people in an organization must do or refrain from doing to achieve business goals. Policies indicate what the management expects from its employees.

What is the purpose of a policy?

The main aim of a policy is to reduce institutional risk and boost operational efficiency. With clear policies, employees at various levels in your organization will understand what the company expects from them. This ensures consistency and promotes a sense of predictability regarding what they can expect from others in the organization.

What do policies focus on?

Organizations have different sets of best practices, standards and regulations based on the industry in which they operate. Within an organization, policies focus on bringing consistency to the operations. When processes are consistent, it eliminates confusion and allows all employees to adhere to common standards.

Policies help organizations comply with established laws and regulations, but they can do a lot more than that. You can leverage policies to develop excellent standards for your industry’s best practices.

Who is involved in policymaking?

Since policies mimic a company’s overall vision and objectives, they are typically created by top managers at the executive level. However, mid-level managers can also be responsible for developing policies for their departments. Human resources professionals are also involved in policymaking since they will likely have more knowledge of ethical practices and legal procedures.

How are policies implemented?

Policy implementation can take different forms depending on an organization’s culture and the industry in which it operates. Before implementing a new policy, employers must provide some background information on why it is being implemented. This will help avoid any confusion in the implementation process and make employees less resistant to the changes.

Employers can also communicate policy changes based on what usually works for their organizations. While emails and memos are still an option, the best approach would be to use a centralized documentation solution and share the information across the company. In this approach, employees can refer to the policy documents whenever they want.

What is an example of a policy?

Let’s consider an organization’s IT policy. With information technology at the forefront of every business operation, modern organizations must have an IT policy that dictates the fair usage of IT assets. Some of the commonly included items in an IT policy are as follows:

  • BYOD policy: The “bring your own device” policy concerns how employees must access privileged information when using their own devices. This may include guidelines on security solutions, VPN, password policy, network connectivity and more.
  • Backup and storage policy: Organizations must have specific data backup and storage policies if they wish to prevent unexpected data losses. Backup policies can help organizations get back on track quickly following a cybersecurity incident or a natural disaster.
  • Incident response policy: During an unexpected cybersecurity incident, an incident response plan will help mitigate the damages and get your company back on track. It should include specific actions for what to do during a ransomware attack, a DDoS attack, supply chain attacks, code injection attacks and more.
  • Password policy: Your company’s password policy is vital in preventing various cyberthreats. It should include specific guidelines on password strength, when to change passwords, how to store passwords and more.

What is a procedure?

A procedure provides the operational steps for the effective implementation of a policy. In other words, it offers a specific outline of how to complete particular tasks. Since procedures are well-defined documents, they eliminate confusion in a process and provide consistency in achieving a desired outcome.

What is the purpose of a procedure?

The purpose of procedures is to explain the “how” of completing a task. Procedures provide step-by-step instructions on how to complete a task, who is responsible for a particular step and when it should be completed. With well-defined procedures, your employees will know what to do even when you cannot supervise them directly. It streamlines your operations with no room for ambiguity.

What do procedures focus on?

Procedures focus on providing a robust framework for handling specific tasks. Since employees of all levels must understand procedures, they must be clear, concise and written in simple language. Procedures provide precise explanations for completing tasks and must be highly detailed and rigid to make that happen.

Who is involved in procedure writing?

Procedure creation typically requires a team of people specializing in different areas. Managers of various departments can write procedures concerning the operations of their teams. Even team leaders and key employees take part in writing procedures to ensure clarity in messaging. Like policies, the HR department can also share its insights and provide feedback on the ethical concerns associated with procedures.

How are procedures implemented?

Since procedures involve guidelines on completing specific tasks, you must share them with all the employees who work on those tasks. Traditional ways of sharing procedure information may not be adequate for modern-day organizations. The best way to communicate procedures is through a centralized documentation tool that can be accessed by all employees whenever they are working on a task. It allows employees to refer to procedure documents whenever they need them instantly.

What is an example of a procedure?

We have outlined different types of IT policies earlier. Let’s consider the example of data breach prevention. The procedure document for this policy would contain the following steps:

  1. Ensure the accuracy of information received
    1. Check mobile number
    2. Check email id
    3. Check mailing address
  2. Store the received information in a secure vault
  3. Use a strong password to prevent breaches
  4. Restrict access to only a select few personnel
  5. Train all employees to handle sensitive data
  6. Perform vulnerability or risk assessment every month

Policy vs. procedure summarized

Policies and procedures are vital for organizations to incorporate administrative frameworks on how a company should function. Despite their role in facilitating compliance and core business activities, policies and procedures differ on various measures.

We have established that policies provide a general outline of organizational rules while procedures provide the specific steps to achieve the rules. Since policies offer a broad overview of organizational goals, they are not subject to frequent change. The goals, expectations and priorities outlined in the policy document will likely remain stable over time.

Procedures, on the other hand, are subject to frequent adjustments and changes. For instance, when you install a new password management solution, your password security procedures will likely change accordingly.

Here’s a quick overview of the key differences between policies and procedures:

Policy

vs.

Procedure

It outlines a company’s overall direction on a specific topic.DefinitionIt provides specific steps for completing tasks.
To provide a roadmap to the organization.PurposeTo provide clear instructions on completing tasks.
To deliver an organization’s perspective to all employees.FocusTo reach a specific desired outcome.
To help with effective decision-making that aligns with the organization’s goals.ScopeTo provide the well-defined steps required to complete a task efficiently.
Communicate with all the personnel involved and educate them on why this approach is taken.ImplementationProvide training to those working on the procedures and address their concerns.

Which comes first: policy or procedure?

While you may have figured it out by now, let’s emphasize which comes first and why it should be written first. Since policies provide the overarching guidelines for an organization’s direction, they should be written first. Procedures are highly tactical and must be based on policies to ensure efficient operations.

Does a procedure always need a policy?

Policy versus procedure has always been a considerable debate. However, to ensure effective operations in an organization, you need both. Procedures may lay out the steps involved but still need strong policies to establish the proper framework. Without policies, you will not understand an organization’s goals or the direction it travels.

Can you combine policies and procedures?

Policies and procedures have specific organizational purposes and cannot be combined. Mixing up the information can lead to a lot of confusion and will affect your operations. You can bring them under a single document if it suits your requirements. However, ensure they are clearly segmented with proper headings and sections.

Document policies and procedures with IT Glue

IT Glue is an award-winning IT documentation platform that can document your most valued assets into knowledge and information your entire organization can use. You can leverage a library of policies and procedures to help you kickstart your IT documentation.

Not only does IT Glue consolidates all of your policies and procedures, it also consolidates your IT hardware and software assets, passwords and many more into a single pane of glass to put information at your fingertips.

IT Glue’s SOC 2-compliant documentation platform features an immutable audit trail, multifactor authentication and next-generation password management engine, all fully integrated and linked with all your IT policies and procedures.

To know more about how IT Glue can help with your policies and procedures,

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