Policies - what are they?

Policies are a set of general guidelines or a statement of intent. They outline your organisation's plan for tackling specific issues. They are implemented by a group of procedures but does not contain the procedures within themselves.


Policies communicate an organisation's values, philosophy, and culture. They include, but aren't limited to, the following:

  • What employees can expect from the organisation (employee benefits, vacation policy)
  • What the company expects from employees (code of conduct, confidentiality agreements)
  • What customers and the community can expect from the organisation (customer service policies)

Effective policies also lay the foundation for a healthy work culture. Policies influence culture, communicate expectations to employees, and guide day-to-day operations. Poorly built policies do the opposite.

Policies need to be documents that quickly and clearly communicate to their audience. What makes a good policy?

  • Clear, concise, and simple language
  • Explains the rule, not how to implement the rule
  • Easily accessible by staff at all times
  • Represents a consistent, logical framework

Why write a policy and then a separate set of procedures, or even an entire framework? Remember that a policy outlines the organisation's plan for tackling specific issues - it represents what an organisation believes as a whole. This means the policy is approved and given authority by the Chief Executive, the Board or their direct delegate. Asking this management level to approve procedures will cause issues:

  1. they don't know the constraints for executing the procedure;

  2. understanding the procedure is unlikely to be part of their skillset;

  3. they are likely to edit the procedure into something not easily executable - but the staff will have to comply; and

  4. it will be slow to improve the process due to the availability of the senior management.

By asking senior management to approve a policy document separate from procedures allows lower management to handle approval and standards for operational activities.

What does a good policy look like?

  • Policy Statement - This is generally a paragraph making a clear statement of intent
  • Purpose - This can elaborate on the policy, setting out target audiences, needs etc.
  • Desired Outcomes - Stating these can often bring more clarity for the implementation of the policy.
  • Responsibilities - This lists out who is accountable for managing the implementation of the policy, and often who is permitted to modify the policy, who approves changes and other administrative tasks. However, these may exist in something like a Quality Manual instead. This section may lay out staff responsibilities and the actions taken if the policy is breached.

What does a poor policy look like?

  • A rambling document that needs to be read entirely;
  • Vague and unclear language;
  • Fails to assign ownership, accountability or responsibilities;
  • Lists rules without describing a purpose;
  • Contains specific procedures or standards;
  • Is long; and
  • Is not written plainly (e.g. Plain English).

Copyright © 2021 Bret Watson