What is the purpose of policies?

johnwood, 4/25/2021

The purpose of policies is to record the essence of what your business does, how it does it, what it represents (especially in terms of values), what fuels its growth and - most relevant to our discussion here - the various expectations of its staff to fulfill those goals.

Your policies and procedures should codify the very basic principles and guidelines passed down from one generation of management to the next. Staff come and go, your organization's principles and knowledge should not leave with them, otherwise your organization will soon fail.

But, notice there are both policies and procedures - so what is the difference? Simply speaking, procedures are a codification of the the step-by-step processes that people must go through in order to perform various tasks in your organization. For example, how do you deal with a customer complaint? What is recorded? Where is it recorded? Who is it routed to? Who should follow-up and when? All of these things can be codified into a "Customer Complaint" procedure.

A policy, on the other hand, will detail the expectations and boundaries of behavior involving choices that are made by staff. They are like rules. What can and can you not be said when interacting with customers? When should you be in the office, and when are you allowed to take vacation? What can you not do when using the Internet at your organization? These would all be policies, because they explain boundaries. Unlike procedures, that are actual step-by-step commands.

Together you can codify your entire business operations and culture, and have this safeguarded so that it will not be lost when a particular member of your staff leave. Even if the CEO leaves.

And this is the thing: some organizations don't even realize they need to have policies and procedures. And that's because they're hidden away in people heads, and nobody sees the risks in having it stored there. Perhaps the business is running perfectly well and they simply don't have time to write them out. So why should they?

And sometimes the reason they don't write down their procedures is because their workflow is actually flawed, inefficient or more risky than it should be. Writing down procedures forces you to show your methods to the world (or, well, your coworkers). So yes, there may be resistance. But it has to be overcome for the good of your organization.

What if the reason they don't want to write down their procedures is because their methods of going about it are actually illegal?

In fact, exposing, communicating, deliberating upon and finally documenting your policies and procedures is itself a de-risking process. Massively de-risking. You can ensure that all those company processes, that your entire workflow, is ratified and thought out properly. You can be sure everything complies with your organization's values, expectations, regulations and, perhaps most importantly, the law. And this is a very central purpose to have actual, official policies and procedures in your organization.

Understanding the purpose of policies and procedures in your organization takes forward thinking. It takes understanding risks and being willing to sacrifice a little, investing a little, in order to secure the future of your organization - with or without its current key staff. But it's absolutely essential that every organization does it.

And that is why you should consider a Policies and Procedures Management System to help you.

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