Tips for Writing Policies and Procedures

    In business, there are times when you may need to write various policies and procedures. For example, maybe you’ve committed that 2022 will be the year you formalize your cybersecurity or remote work policies. 

    Writing policies and procedures can be tricky, and it’s different from other types of business writing. 

    The following are some things to keep in mind that can be helpful.

    A man handing a folder titled "Policy" to another man.

    Understand What a Policy Is

    A policy is a document with instructions that outline how things should be done but in a less specific way than procedures, which we talk about more below. 

    A policy can cover any number of areas in a business, including your culture, values, and expected conduct. A policy is also an action plan. As an action plan, policies should guide decision-making among employees, and it should be a resource that your staff can go to if they have questions.  

    You can see how important this type of business writing is. 

    The underlying philosophies of policies matter because it helps guide situations even outside of maybe what you specifically describe. 

    Before you even start writing, you should have a general goal in mind, as well as more specific objectives. 

    Your policies and procedures can apply to your entire business, or they can involve a smaller population as a team or department. 

    Benefits of policies and procedures, more specifically than what is detailed above, include:

    • Having written policies helps you define clear expectations, which improves productivity and engagement. Clarity is especially essential in remote work and hybrid work environments. 
    • You can promote consistency in outcomes when you have defined policies and procedures. When you’re consistent in outcomes, this will help with both employee and customer satisfaction. 
    • Optimize productivity by streamlining decisions through the implementation of policies and procedures. 
    • Written documents like these can be a training manual for new staff. 
    • Having written policies sets expectations that then allow for employee accountability. 
    • Employees are more empowered to be innovative and solve problems when they have a framework within which to work. 

    Consider the SMART Framework

    After you’ve identified your goals for policies and procedures, you can then think about how they fit into overall business goals. One option to help guide you here is the SMART framework. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based goals. 

    When you’re in the planning phase, consult with other key stakeholders to get their perspectives and input. 

    Know the Features of Good Policy 

    Good policy tends to have some characteristics, including:

    • The language is clear, and the terms are simple. You want to avoid it being too dense and incomprehensible
    • Some procedures are well-defined, indicating how policy should be carried out. 
    • Policies consider the perspective of employees and should ensure the rules are fair to each of them. 
    • Reasonable policies and procedures shouldn’t be too restrictive—they should offer options when available. 

    Policy vs. Procedure

    While we’ve used them somewhat interchangeably to this point, there are differences to keep in mind when writing a policy versus a procedure. 

    Two binders, one blue and one green, with the labels Policies and Procedure

    A policy states what the management of an organization expects from employees. A procedure is a detailed description of instructions indicating how policy should be carried out. 

    Another way to look at it is that a policy highlights what should be done. A procedure details how it should be done. 

    Writing Tips

    The following are more specific tips for writing policies:

    • Follow a standardized format. You want your policies, regardless of what they’re addressing, to seem uniform across the board. This will help things seem more familiar to your employees as they’re looking for information. 
    • When possible, you should write your policies if you’re the owner or manager of a business. Having a third-party write your policies can end up being problematic if the writer doesn’t understand the language and jargon of your business and industry or how you operate internally. 
    • Remember that you should include your current employees in the process of creating your policies. These are the people who are going to be most affected by them. 
    • As important as the actual writing of policies is the review process. You need to review existing policies and make changes as needed regularly.
    • When you’re writing policies or procedures, for that matter, start with a priority list that will help you figure out what to focus your attention on first. 
    • You will probably need to do some research to write policies or procedures. You’ll need to, for example, do some research on your competitors’ similar policies and see what might be relevant to include in your own. You may also have to get legal advice and talk to subject matter experts in some cases. 
    • Before a policy or procedure is made available, you should have it reviewed by other people. You want both experienced and newer employees to be part of this process. 
    • Keep policies and procedures as short as you can. You don’t have to include every possible scenario. This is too cumbersome in terms of writing, plus employees are less likely to pay attention if you’re overly detailed. 

    When you’re writing this type of business content, you want to start with your end in mind. Basically, what you’re trying to do throughout the entire process is think about what you want the outcome to be when employees refer to this content. You also want to try to proactively think about questions, concerns, or objections employees might have and build these considerations into your writing. 

    You can’t cover every single situation, and that’s fine, but you want at least a general framework that can be applied in a real-world situation. 

    Once you have a template for policies and procedures, you can continue to use the same layout repeatedly, so it will simplify the future writing and review process. 

    Writing policies and procedures isn’t necessarily exciting. Still, this content is going to drive the day-to-day operations of your business, help ensure employee accountability, and can make your business safe and secure as well, so it’s essential. And, a good writer should be able to turn a seemingly dull subject into something inspiring

    Along with general policies and procedures, similar types of business writing you may need to do include a purpose statement, allowed and prohibited conduct, and reporting requirements. 

     

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