For a company to consistently operate up to an acceptable standard, it needs to have solid policies and procedures in place.
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- What policies and procedures are
- Why defining them is crucial to business success
- How to effectively document and implement them within your organization
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
What are Policies & Procedures?
Policies and procedures (P&P) refers to documentation that establishes and explains a company’s overall operational framework that must be adhered to at all times.
In short, your company’s policies are what you are, and your procedures are how you show it.
Your P&P documentation can refer to policies your employees must follow, to standards your organization as a whole must adhere to — or a combination of both. This will become more clear as we dig into specific examples momentarily.
For now, let’s be more clear on the relationship between policies and procedures.
What are Policies?
Policies are the overarching rules or guidelines to be followed either by employees or the company.
When defining policies, you’ll explain:
- The general terms of the policy
- The objective of the policy
- The rationale behind the policy
Here’s a simple example of a dress code policy from Employment Law Handbook:
Employee appearance contributes to company culture and reputation. Employees are expected to present themselves in a professional manner that results in a favorable impression by clients and customers.
Here’s another, this one on employee confidentiality:
Due to the nature of our business, it is essential that all of our employees fully understand how to treat confidential information. Accordingly, this employee confidentiality policy has been crafted and implemented to ensure that everyone who works for us knows and complies with our expectations regarding sensitive information.
Finally, a sample equal employment opportunity policy statement:
This equal opportunity employer policy is a blanket policy. This means it applies to all employees, prospective employees, suppliers, backers, associates and affiliates, and guests.
While we believe that equal opportunity should and does apply to everyone, we also understand that it is especially important for people in groups that have historically been subjected to unfair treatment in the workplace. Although we don’t promise to employ or promote all people in such groups, we do pledge to treat qualified job applicants and employees eligible for promotion fairly. We also pledge to avoid discriminating against them based on conscious or unconscious biases.
What are Procedures?
Procedures are the practical guidelines and/or instructions to follow in order to adhere to the aforementioned policy.
A dress code, for example, will include information about what can and cannot be worn during work hours. It may include information regarding reasonable discretion and managerial decisions based on employee clothing.
Consequences for insubordination or otherwise not adhering to policy are usually included in this section, as well.
(As we’ll discuss, this documentation may point readers to separate documentation regarding the company’s disciplinary policies and procedures.)
Procedures can include contingency plans, exceptions, and other situational information. For example, confidentiality documentation may explain circumstances where confidentiality doesn’t apply to an employee’s statement.
Why Do You Need to Create Policies & Procedures?
Chances are, you’re probably well aware that having documented policies and procedures in place trumps not having them in place at all.
But, when everything’s running smoothly enough without them, taking the time to write about your processes instead of actually conducting them can seem pretty counterintuitive. For many owners and managers, it’s easy to just say, “Hey, we have a trustworthy team that knows what they’re doing” and leave it at that.
And it might work — for a while.
Eventually, though, a lack of P&P documentation will hold your company back from its true potential — and may even be the reason your business falls apart at the seams.
In taking the time to create this documentation before it’s fully needed, you’ll be setting your business up for success in a number of ways.
Strengthen Company Values, Vision, and Path to Success
Your policies are the individual pieces of a puzzle that, when completed, form your company’s foundational values and vision.
And without each piece of the puzzle, your vision will be at least somewhat incomplete.
That said, documenting your policies and procedures is an effective way to further flesh out:
- What your company is “all about”
- What you hope to accomplish within your niche
- How you intend to accomplish these goals
Going back to the puzzle analogy, it’s not just that you’ll be connecting each policy to the “big picture”.
Rather, you’ll be illustrating how each policy connects with one another in order to form this big picture. Moreover, documenting your policies and procedures ensures each “piece” gets sufficient attention — in turn creating an even clearer image of your organization, overall.
Learn how Capital City Bank Group decreased internal reporting by 20% by including “how to” and “why” information in their P&P documentation and knowledge base.
Optimize Operations (and Mitigate Mistakes)
The policies and procedures you put in place impact your operations in both active and passive ways.
In many cases, P&P applies directly to your employees’ on-the-job actions, behaviors, and conduct. For example, defining which employee communication channels should be used for a specific purpose ensures messages are always sent and received as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Even “passive” policies help maximize your team’s productivity in various ways. For example, an effective dress code can:
- Make representatives more identifiable — making for streamlined customer communications
- Provide comfort to the employee — helping them minimize stress and maintain focus
- Allow for individuality while also maintaining a level of camaraderie between team members — benefiting both the individual and the organization as a whole
Having clear policies and procedures in place will help you avoid myriad pitfalls over time. And, should your team encounter an issue to be resolved, they’ll have clear instructions on how to begin fixing it.
To this end, your policy and procedure documentation goes hand-in-hand with your standard operating procedure docs. It again goes back to your policies being what your organization is and stands for — which is then reflected in every action you take.
In solidifying your policies and procedures, you can ensure your individual operations always keep you moving in the right direction.
Maintain and Strengthen Compliance
There are many instances in which following specific policies and procedures is required by law.
In such cases, you simply can’t afford to not document them in clear and understandable terms for your team to digest.
In fact, creating such documentation is typically part of maintaining compliance in applicable situations. For example, companies that store medical records protected by HIPAA must not only follow HIPAA protocol at all times, but also must show documentation proving they do so upon request.
(Side note: While a non-compliant organization will likely be penalized in some way regardless, the penalty for complete negligence — such as having no documentation in place — can be much heftier.)
Now, you can of course create policies that go above and beyond the regulations your company is bound to. More than just maintaining compliance, comprehensive P&P documentation helps keep compliance protocol top-of-mind for your team — further minimizing the chance of accidents moving forward.
Strengthen Your Company’s Reputation
Adopting strong policies and procedures can impact the way your organization is perceived from the inside and out.
Internally, developing standardized policies and procedures can create alignment and develop trust amongst team members, and throughout the organization as a whole. It also empowers team members to always do what they know needs to be done in a given situation to move the needle for the company.
With the above in place, your dedicated, high-performing employees will be more likely to stay loyal and focused on living up to (and exceeding) expectations at every turn.
To outsiders, your company’s strong policies and historical performance records can essentially speak for themselves — which will benefit your business in many ways.
- Attracting talented prospective employees when hiring
- Building trust amongst new target audiences
- Providing insight to investors regarding your business’ operations and goals
Having this documentation in place can potentially save your company’s reputation from complete destruction should things go majorly wrong. Though never guaranteed, your employees, customers, and other stakeholders may be more forgiving of missteps if you always have a plan in place to right the ship.
Key Policies & Procedures to Document
Now, let’s go over some of the main areas to cover within your policy and procedure documentation.
Note that this is not an exhaustive list, nor do you necessarily need to implement every policy we’ll be discussing. You may choose to organize and/or break up your policies in whichever way works best for your team.
That said, this will give you an overview of the core policies to solidify within your organization.
Employee Code of Conduct
This section should explain with clarity how your employees are to conduct themselves when on the job, and when operating on behalf of your organization.
Within your code of conduct, you might address some or all of the following policies:
- Attendance: The terms of your employees’ work schedules, along with clear definitions of what “being present” means — especially for remote or distributed teams. It should include instructions for requesting time off, etc.
- Dress Code: Explicit instruction as to what employees can and can’t wear on the job.
- Phone/Tech Use: Terms for using either company-owned or personal devices for business or personal purposes. May also refer to personal use of social media outside of work.
- Language Use: Parameters and expectations for use of language on-premise, in digital communications, and elsewhere. Typically addresses harassment of all kinds, while also setting a standard for communication overall.
- Relationships: Defines the parameters for colleagues and/or supervisors fraternizing or pursuing relationships with one another outside of work.
- Smoking/Substances: Defines the parameters for on-premise tobacco use, along with the company’s policy regarding substance use on and off the clock.
- Theft/Crime: The company’s policy regarding employees and criminal activity — both that which does and does not involve the company.
- Non-Disclosure Agreements: What employees can and cannot disclose about their work-related activities and knowledge of the company.
- Non-Compete Clauses: Language stipulating whether a contracted employee can work for other companies within your industry, or otherwise work outside of your company.
Employee Fair Treatment
You’ll include policies defining how your employees should expect to be treated by your company.
The main areas to cover here include compensation, benefits, and PTO terms. It’s important to include language regarding exceptions to these policies — such as when making accommodations for protected individuals.
Similarly, this section can be used to communicate your hiring processes, along with any precautions taken to ensure fairness throughout.
Health & Safety
It’s vital — in the truest sense of the word — for your policy and procedure documentation to include specific information regarding employee health and safety.
This should include:
- Known work and environmental hazards — along with any safety precautions taken to prevent accident or injury
- Emergency protocol and other critical information for specific events and situations
- License and certification requirements required by individual employees, the organization, and/or the work environment
- Employee rights regarding health-related situations (e.g., mask mandates, working from home, and personal accommodations)
Compliance & Legal
As we’ve discussed, your documentation should include language regarding the legal stipulations your organization is bound to, along with specific info as to how you continuously remain above board.
Again, while not an exhaustive list, you should define how you adhere to regulations such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, and Equal Opportunity Act. The same goes for any industry- or niche-specific regulations, such as HIPAA and OSHA.
On that note, you can use this section to revisit NDAs, NCCs, and other terms you have with your employees. In some cases, this may be an entire section in itself.
While each section of your P&P documentation will detail consequences for insubordination, here’s where you’ll define your overall disciplinary policy and procedures in-depth.
This will include your processes for dealing with individual instances and repeat offenses in various areas. The goal is to make clear for all involved parties (e.g., the accused, victims, and/or witnesses) what to expect throughout the process.
(Note that this process may involve mediation or arbitration — which should be documented as company policies, as well.)
How to Develop Effective Policies & Procedures
Now, let’s dig into the core best practices to follow as you develop and improve your policies and procedures.
Identify Policies to Define and Prioritize
To be sure, there’s a lot of ground to cover when documenting your policies and procedures.
And you can’t tackle it all at once.
Instead, focus on those that are most impactful and essential to your business. You can start by placing each of your policies into one of the following categories:
Required by Law
If your organization isn’t operating according to the law, none of your other policies will matter.
That said, creating policies involving your company’s legal obligations should always be your top priority. To be blunt: Do not move onto your other company policies until you’ve covered all your legal bases.
Essential to Company Vision and Mission
While you likely have a general idea of what these policies will entail, you can get an even more realistic idea by reverse-engineering your vision of the future.
Remember our puzzle metaphor? Here, you’ll be taking apart the image as a whole, and analyzing each individual piece to:
- Define each crucial policy and accompanying procedure
- Understand how each policy fits with one another in a more practical sense
In doing so, you may even uncover hidden areas that require more attention — leading to the creation of even stronger policies for your company.
Finally, you’ll focus on the policies that are more universal to small businesses and/or to companies in your niche.
However, you’ll still want to prioritize those that have the most impact on your operations above others. For example, a strict dress code may be a requirement for a retail store — but might not be a top priority for distributed teams that communicate digitally.
Still, you should aim to eventually address as many areas as possible within your P&P documentation in due time.
Develop Policies & Procedures Collaboratively
Everyone who will be impacted by your policies and procedures should on some level be involved in their creation and documentation.
- Executives dictate the essential policies to be implemented, and confirm accompanying procedures as developed.
- Legal Teams provide information and guidance regarding compliance, both during and after creation of policies.
- Managers and Employees help develop procedures, and offer suggestions and feedback to ensure all policies are practical, fair, comprehensive, and comprehensible.
All stakeholders should feel empowered to have their say when developing company policies. Though exec and legal teams have the final say in many regards, involving those who will be carrying out your policies is key to creating alignment and community throughout your team.
Create a Standardized Template
While each of your policies and procedures will vary in length and depth, they should all adhere to the same uniform structure.
This template should include:
- Statement of Policy and Purpose: A clear and concise statement of what the policy is, and how it benefits the company as an organization and as a business.
- Description of Procedure: A detailed explanation of how the policy is enacted and adhered to within the company. This may also identify areas the policy doesn’t cover.
- Examples of Common Breaches of Conduct: Based on past events and operational knowledge, provide practical examples of conduct breaches for each policy.
- Reporting Process: The process for handling a breach of policy, including what happens, who’s involved, and what their role is.
- Glossary of Terms: If needed — for legal purposes and/or simplicity — a glossary of terms should be included in your policy documentation.
By creating a template to work off from the start, you’ll standardize your documentation and streamline the process for creating new policies in the future.
Distribute Documentation (and Make It Accessible)
Once you’ve documented your policies and procedures, you need to ensure your stakeholders receive, digest, and understand them in full.
All stakeholders should receive physical and digital copies of new policies as they’re released. Your employee handbook should be updated to reflect any policy changes — with the new version being distributed to all team members as usual.
Storing your policy and procedure documents within your internal knowledge base makes them readily available to all team members as needed. You might also choose to share certain P&P documentation with your customers via your external knowledge base, as well.
Train and Empower Your Stakeholders
No matter how straightforward a new policy may be, implementing it will take time and effort from all involved.
In many cases, it will involve more intentional employee training — especially when certifications and licenses are required. Depending on the circumstances, this training may include:
- Lectures and exams
- Role playing sessions
- Communities of practice
It’s important to monitor and strengthen your employees’ efforts over time. You may even need to work individually with team members to create long-term development plans.
At any rate, you never want to assume your employees will simply adhere to a new policy just because it’s there. Instead, look to your change management best practices to ensure the “new way of doing things” sticks.
Improve Procedures and Amend Policies
More than just making them stick, your policies should become clearer and stronger as time goes on.
First, though, you need to assess how these policies have impacted your employee, team, and business performance.
Consider changes in the amount and quality of reports, complaints or other internal issues received since making the change. Reach out to your individual team members, too, as they’ll provide a more grounded description of how the change has impacted them.
From there, you can work to improve either:
- The procedures that bring your policy to life, or
- The actual policy itself
Once you identify what needs to change, the documentation cycle starts all over again. The good news, though, is you’ll have more and more data to work with after each iteration.
Document and Deliver Policies & Procedures with Helpjuice
As we just mentioned, making use of a knowledge base is critical for delivering policy documentation and making it accessible.
The right knowledge base software also makes it easy to deliver additional information and resources to team members when reading up on company policy. With a better understanding of the context behind your policies, your stakeholders will be much better equipped to follow them — period.
Ready to get started? Sign up for your 14-day free trial of Helpjuice today!.