Difference between Policy and Procedure

Key difference: Essentially, while a policy is more general and states only an objective, a procedure is more detailed and entails who, what, where, when, why and how the policy may be implemented or followed. Hence, policies and procedures are both complementary and hence should be used as such.

Policy and procedures are two difference words, which may be commonly confused. A person may be required to follow policies or procedures on how and what needs to be done. However, which is which, and what exactly is the person following: instructions or procedures.

Dictionary.com defines policy as:

  • A definite course of action adopted for the sake of expediency, facility, etc.: We have a new company policy.
  • A course of action adopted and pursued by a government, ruler, political party, etc.: our nation's foreign policy.
  • Action or procedure conforming to or considered with reference to prudence or expediency: It was good policy to consent.
  • Sagacity; shrewdness: Showing great policy, he pitted his enemies against one another.

While, procedures are defined as:

  • An act or a manner of proceeding in any action or process; conduct.
  • A particular course or mode of action.
  • Any given mode of conducting legal, parliamentary, or other business, especially litigation and judicial proceedings.
  • The sequence of actions or instructions to be followed in solving a problem or accomplishing a task.
  • Also called subprogram. A group of statements that may be used at one or more points in a computer program.

There is a lot of confusion with the words procedures and policy, especially in a workplace setting. The main difference between the two is that procedures describe a process, while policy is more of a principle or rule, which is adopted in order to bring about some change.

A policy is mainly used to regulate organizational affairs. They are a type of position statement that state where the organization stands on an important issue. It may also state how an organization intends to move ahead on an issue. For example: “We have a very strict policy against those that steal office supplies” or “The company is adopting a new policy for reducing environmental waste.”

Policies in general can also be used for decision making, as well as to develop procedures. Procedures essentially entail how the policies will be incorporated into the organization, such as who will do what, what steps they need to take and which forms or documents to use.

Procedures are more detailed than polices. They describe how to perform a task in general; they also outline the key steps and the order in which the steps should be taken. Essentially they define what one needs to do. A work procedure may also entail intputs/outputs, flow, measurements, etc. Work instructions should take someone through the steps that are necessary to complete a task or tasks for a responsibility in a procedure.

Continuing the previous examples: In the instance for the theft policy, a procedure may entail how the management will deal with an employee if they are suspected of theft. Or, in the case of the environmental waste policy, the procedure may entail how the company aims to achieve reduction in environmental waste.

Essentially, while a policy is more general and states only an objective, a procedure is more detailed and entails who, what, where, when, why and how the policy may be implemented or followed. Hence, policies and procedures are both complementary and hence should be used as such.

Image Courtesy: ctemps.org, alfaisal.edu

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