What are Policies vs. Processes vs. Procedures

Man balding process

One thing that is very clear is that…

…few people are able to clearly articulate the difference between policies, processes, and procedures.

Common misconceptions:

  • Policies, Processes & Procedures make organizations less efficient
  • Only used by large organizations
  • They reduce autonomy and are difficult to create

If you want to help your organization grow and flourish without you standing over everyone…

…you need to help empower other people with the knowledge and operating guidelines that they need to be able to properly do their job.

Benefits of well-defined parameters

Despite being separate, they are dependent upon each other and work together in harmony to form the cohesive basis for efficient and effective operations within an organization

  • Staff can operate with more autonomy
  • It reduces the decision bottleneck of senior management
  • Staff are happier as it is clear what they need to do


Business process management architect Sandy Kemsley has offered this definition of policies and procedures:

“I see policies as the rules, or laws, of an organization, whereas the procedures are the processes used to enact the policies…policies are about rules, and procedures are about processes.”

Michelle Farabough, Communication Specialist at the University of Oklahoma’s School of Community Medicine Center for Health Outcomes & Improvement Research, explained the difference between process and procedure this way:

“A process is a way of doing something. A procedure is a particular way of doing something.”

Real-world example of a policy, process, and procedure

However, policies, processes, and procedures are distinctly different and understanding them is vital to getting on the road to the efficient operation of your organization.

Example 1: Online shop

policy process procedure


A company promises that a product can be delivered to a customer within 24 hours of when the customer places an order.

  • The policy is that the product must be delivered to the customer within 24 hours from the point he or she places the order.
  • The process is that staff will prepare the order for delivery, while managers monitor the process.
  • The procedure gets more specific about how this process will be accomplished.

Example procedure:

  • Jim will fill orders in categories A, B, and C.
  • Jen will fill orders in categories X, Y, and Z.
  • John will supervise to ensure timely delivery.
  • If an employee is sick, the manager on duty should call Sarah to ask her to substitute for that person.

Example 2: School fire drill


Fire departments require schools to hold fire drills every month.

  •   The policy is that each school must hold a fire drill each month.
  •   The process is that classroom teachers will lead students outside to the schoolyard, while school principals oversee the process and make sure that each class is accounted for.
  •  The procedure gets more specific about how this process will be accomplished.

Example procedure

  • Teachers located in Hall A will lead students out of the building through Door A.
  • Teachers in Hall B will lead students out of the building through Door B.
  • Staff members who are not teaching a class at that time will exit the building via the nearest door and help to supervise students outside.
  • The last person to leave a room must turn off the light and close the door behind him or her.

Policy vs. Process vs. Procedure Cheatsheet

  • A policy is a rule, regulation, or set of guidelines
  • A process is a high level set of things that must happen outlining what must happen in order to ensure compliance with a policy.
  • A procedure is a specific, detailed series of actions that staff members must take in order to implement a process and comply with a policy.

You can ensure that your organization is running as efficiently as possible and that all staff members fully understand and are accountable for all relevant policies, processes, and procedures.

Policy Process Procedure
What is it?
  • Rule
  • Regulation
  • Set of guidelines
  • Set of things (Procedures) that must be executed
  • Specific and detailed step of actions
Why does it exist?
  • Legislation
  • Industry requirements
  • Define organizations position
  • Defines steps needed to ensure policy is enforced/adhered to
  • So that when a process needs to happen that there is no doubt what actions need to happen
Level of detail
  • Very high level
  • Includes: responsibilities and consequences

  • Who
  • When
  • How often

  • Exact step by step
  • Who
  • What order
  • How to deal with undefined events
Review frequency
  • Usually 6-12 months
  • As needed
  • At the conclusion of every cycle
Mandated by
  • Owners
  • CEO
  • VPs
  • Person(s) defined in policy
  • Person(s) defined in policy
IT Example
  • Indecent material should not be viewed on company IT equipment.
  • The IT Director will be responsible for ensuring this is monitored
  • Staff will be reprimanded if caught via HR.
  • IT Director will use appropriate software to detect infringement
  • A procedure will exist if infringement is detected.
  • IT Director will review with HR what constitutes indecent material and HR must decide actions
  • Every week the IT Manager must review the internet filter logs
  • If they find entries that are not acceptable they inform the IT director
  • The IT director will contact the HR Director
  • The HR director will call a meeting with the staff member to discuss

One Response to “What are Policies vs. Processes vs. Procedures”

  1. Dominique Hody-Christian

    That is so clear and simple even I can understand and get my head around it.
    Thank you


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