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Policies and procedures are the underpinning elements by which an organization establishes its rules of conduct. Both serve to drive compliance, but do so through starkly different methods. One puts to paper the guidelines and rules that every organization expects its employees, and every other person connected to the company, to follow. The other, procedure, presents a step-by-step process for any company specific tasks and activities, thus establishing standards.
Organizations have several policies earmarked for varied departments – from administration to customer handling and data processing, everything needs to be managed through integrated yet varying protocol mechanisms. So, efficient policy and procedure management, in this case, does not remain a simple idea but translates into a critical system.
Understanding these layers of compliance management is only possible when you correlate the distinction between policy and procedure management. This enables their use as a cohesive force and facilitates the alignment of operations with the applicable regulatory frameworks. To know more about these two crucial elements – policies and procedures, and the key attributes that set them apart, read on.
Policies are like a doctrine or a statement that contains a set of values. Better put, they are the tenets that guide employee behavior, offer perspective during decision-making, and establish the base for key goals in the organization. The procedure, however, is a systematic structure for an activity or task. These are predefined by the organization and are meant to be followed to a tee. Therein lies the key difference between the two. Policies establish the limits for consistent performance, and procedures are the walkthrough.
For instance, consider a general attendance policy for an organization. The written documents will help the employees understand the office timings, the number of leaves allowed in a year, and the entitled holidays. However, the procedure for the policy will include a detailed system that every employee must follow to either apply for a leave, log their daily attendance, or notify in case of nonattendance. Neither can exist in a vacuum simply because it leaves questions relating to reasoning or practicality unanswered.
The nature of these two elements is another key differentiating factor. Policies are pliable or malleable, whereas a procedure is rigid. With the latter, there are no two ways about it. Such a descriptor is unheard of for policies because they often leave room for interpretation and accommodate the unknown. Exceptions exist with policies, and the same liberty isn’t extended with the procedure.
This stiff nature of the procedure can be restrictive and pose problems for organizations. A good example of this is when the company insists on cultivating a culture of accountability and building a mentality of ownership but requires employees to seek permission or approval at every step. A restrictive procedure like this, while good for compliance reasons, undermines true policy implementation. The ideals get left behind, while a sense of confusion fosters amongst the workforce.
A policy stands for the overall mission of the organization and reflects it as the core values of the organization. The procedure, on the other hand, maintains practicality as its core value. Its implications lie in making the policies come to fruition. For instance, an organization involved in an e-commerce business will have a string of policies governing operations, stock handling, and warehouse management. The staff stationed at the warehouse need to be aware of this policy and understand it. To abide by it, these employees will turn to the stipulated procedure to be followed at the warehouse.
A policy, and policy management, directly support the strategies the organization has in place. By nature, they are a fundamental part of long-range planning, are broader in concept, and are stable. All winning traits support strategy, and in doing so, it also supports senior management. Alternatively, the procedure supports the policy it resides within. Unlike a policy, it doesn’t support strategy but rather the program instituted for it.
The procedure is best utilized for short-term planning and indirectly relates to company goals. For instance, marketing strategies for a financial institution will lay out the timelines of when to run campaigns for varied products and services of the company. Policies will validate the roadmap, elaborating on advertising methodology and marketing tactics. They are comprehensive and will also cover the scope of a program. The procedure will directly lend itself to achieving this marketing policy. Depending on the definition of this procedure, it can create clear workflows and breed a sense of accountability for all the employees involved.
The attribute of execution also loosely relates to the success of a policy or procedure. Policies are best executed, and most successfully, when directly linked to people’s acceptance and thus, are fruitful when fully accepted by employees. However, procedures excel when executed in a logical manner. The success here is when it delivers the desired outcome, which is difficult to achieve if employees are making decisions on the fly. Even if these are made in line with policy requirements, it results in inefficiency which can be detrimental in time-sensitive scenarios.
The mandatory fire drill in organizations or schools is the best example of execution variance. Policy dictates that this drill be carried out bi-monthly, bi-annually, or quarterly with a goal to drive safety awareness and training. The procedure comes into play during the actual fire drill, where those involved are guided through specific routes, with alternatives to consider. There is no ambiguity at this stage, but the procedure can see revisions and improvements based on need.
Though symbiotic, the distinction between policy and procedure is exactly why they demand specialized treatment. A policy management system that doesn’t or can’t cater to these differences is no good. It will be less than useful in a pinch, and especially so at keeping up with regulation. This is where powerful GRC technology enters the fray. It can streamline processes, and even automate key areas for optimal function and company-wide adoption. In fact, the VComply GRC suite does just that and can help you realize the full potential of your policy management system.
It eliminates the need for manual administration, empowers systems and teams, all while boosting operational efficiency for maximum returns on your compliance efforts. From intuitive dashboards and reports to agile implementation tools and role-based access controls, this suite lends itself to the entire CMS effortlessly.
See why VComply is a trusted G2 high performer in Policy Management. Request your demo and improve your compliance posture.
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