How to Write Policies and Procedures for Your Business
What is a Policy and Procedure?
So what is a policy and procedure? Simply put, it's step-by-step instructions on how to do something in your organization. It could be something general like what is expected of all employees or it could be how to complete a specific job task. Either way, a policy and procedure can get those thoughts down on paper for everyone to see and follow.
This article will cover the following:
- What to include in a policy and procedure
- How to format a policy and procedure.
- An example of one
- The pros and cons of using a policy and procedure.
How many policies and procedures are you looking to write or revise for your organization?
What to Include in a Policy and Procedure
Below is what is needed in every policy and procedure.
- Header - This should include the name of your organization, the department, etc. This will identify who the procedure is intended for.
- Title - The title of the procedure. Try not to make this too long. Make it easy to remember and refer to.
- Procedure Number - This is for easy reference as well. This allows procedures to be in a certain order in a book, binder, online database, etc. Not only should they be in numerical order, there should be equal spacing between the procedure number (i.e. 100, 105, 110, etc.).
- Effective Date - The date that the procedure was first made effective. Can be important in trying to establish a time line for a certain job task.
- Revised Date - If changes were made to the procedure at one point, then this date needs to be changed to the date the procedure was revised. This keeps everyone up-to-date on the current changes.
- Reviewed Date - If the procedure was reviewed to see if any changes need to be made, then this date needs to be changed. It doesn't matter if no changes were made, this date should be changed to indicated when it was last reviewed.
- Authorized By - Name of the person who authorized the release of the policy and procedure. This would be a department head or supervisor.
- Policy - This should go into the who, what, when, where, why, and how. However, this portion should be brief. At the most it should be an overview of why the policy is in effect.
- Directive - If something has to be done or if there is an overall instruction that the person must follow, this should be in the directive. Don't include this unless there is something critical that has to be noticed straight away.
- Procedure - This will be the majority of your policy and procedure. It provides the itemized steps on how to accomplish what the policy dictates.
- Page Number - There should be a page number on each page.
- Page Headers - The page headers should include the title and procedure number of the policy and procedure.
- Initials - This should be the initials of the last person who reviewed the policy and procedure. It should also include the date of when it was last reviewed.
- Examples - These will be on separate pages that won't have a header, page numbers, etc. These are examples of what is being described at important steps in the procedure.
How to Format a Policy and Procedure
There are a few basic rules when it comes to writing a policy and procedure:
- Font - The font should be one commonly used and recognized, but isn't considered unprofessional. Comic Sans, for example, is an unprofessional font.
- Font Size - At the most you shouldn't have a large font size used throughout the procedure. It should always be consistent from procedure to procedure.
- Colors - Colors aren't really necessary. The procedure should be on a white background with a black font. However, colors can be used in examples.
- Spacing - The procedure part should be spaced appropriately for easy reading. If there are no spaces between steps, then the text will run together when someone reads the policy.
- Margins - These should be made at whatever the standard in your organization is for other documents. This makes users more inclined to read and use the procedure.
Below are the recommended styling requirements for each of the categories I listed above.
- Header - The header should always be center, bold, in all capital letters, and at the very top of the policy. It should also have the largest size font as compared with the rest of the policy and procedure.
- Title and Procedure Number - Both of these should be on the same line since they are both used for reference in the policy and procedure. These can be the same size or slightly smaller than the header but should be bold and in all capital letters as well. The title should be on the far left, with the procedure number on the far right.
- Effective, Revised, and Reviewed Date - I have seen these done in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are in their own column, while other times I have seen them in their own row. It's a personal preference, but they should always be below the title and have a small size font. Just like the previous categories, these should be in bold and capitalized.
- Authorized By - This can be the last line in the upper portion of the policy and procedure. This should be in bold, capitalized, and on the far left side of the document.
- Policy - There should be something to indicate that the policy starts at this point. Typically, you can make the word "policy" in all capital letters and in bold, while the policy itself is explained not in bold letters or capitalized. You will want to justify the text on the document as well.
- Directive - This is something you usually want to stand out, so it will be in bold and in all capital letters. Justify the paragraph so looks good on the policy and procedure.
- Procedure - This is the hardest part to explain because it is so detailed oriented. Basically, you will want to separate your steps as much as possible. You don't want paragraphs of information, you want simple to follow text. So break up as much as you can by using different kinds of lists at different indentations. For example, A.1.i.a., each at a different indentation than the one before it. However, when moving on to the "B", it has to be the same indentation as the "A" before it. The example below will show a real example of this.
- Page Number - Should be centered in the footer of the document. Either make the number for each page, or show the current page and the total number of pages (i.e. Page 1 of 2). The first page doesn't have to have a page number on it.
- Page Headers - The page header on each subsequent page after the first should look the same as it is for the title and procedure number is on the first page.
- Initials - At the end very end of each procedure the person reviewing/revising the procedure should include their initials and the date they last reviewed/revised it.
- Examples - These are separate from the procedure being written. They can include screenshots from a program, tables to review to, etc. At the relevant point in the procedure the example should be referred to (i.e. Example A). Then in the upper-right hand corner of each example there should be a reference to what example that is.
Best Font to Use for Policy and Procedure
There are four fonts I recommend:
- Arial - This font is considered the industry standard for most documents. A lot of computers default to this font and it is easy to read. You can never go wrong with this font.
- Times New Roman - Another industry standard. It is also used as the default font for some computer programs. Some people consider this an old style that the first generation of computer users recognize.
- Calibri - For a softer approach you can go with this font. It's easy on the eyes and smooths out the look of a document. Since policy and procedure can be boring to read and write, this could be one of the better fonts to use.
- Georgia - This is an uncommonly used font, but one that can jump out at you. I consider it a cross between Arial and Times New Roman.
I wouldn't use any front that is too difficult to read or looks unprofessional. No one will take the policy and procedure seriously if an unprofessional font is used.
The picture below shows all four fonts in action.
Formatting Used in the Above Policy and Procedure Example
14 pt., Bold, Center
14 pt., Bold
14 pt., Bold
12 pt., Bold, Center
12 pt., Bold, Center
12 pt., "Policy" is bold, Justified
12 pt., Bold, Justified
12 pt., Justified
10 pt., Center
12 pt., Bold
Do you think policy and procedure should be strictly followed or should some wiggle room be allowed?
Tips Regarding Policy and Procedure
Here are some general tips to follow in regards to policy and procedure.
- Review procedures often. Just because you write a procedure doesn't mean it's done. Periodically you need to go back and review your procedure for any changes. Some recommend to review them every few years, but I like to review them each year, if possible. Furthermore, when something does change in the organization that affects a procedure, the policy and procedure should be changed right away.
- Have the procedure reviewed before it's made available. Have a few people review the procedure to verify it makes sense. Include new employees as well as the experienced ones in this process. They can provide information you may not have thought of.
- Have everyone confirm they reviewed the procedure once it's released. Once I finish writing or revising a procedure, I send it all to all of my staff. They sign and date when they review it. I also e-mail staff to advise of the changes made to a policy and procedure. This way I have documentation that I notified everyone.
- Develop a table of contents. If you end up developing a lot of policy and procedure, develop a table of contents to make it easy to locate a specific policy.
- Allow for some wiggle room in a procedure. Staff shouldn't be expected to follow policy and procedure to the letter. It should serve as a guide to get the job done. As long as no errors were committed and no laws broken, then some leeway can be allowed when following a procedure.
- Keep the procedure as short as possible. Don't include every scenario or situation that could come up. If something happens once a year, why develop a procedure on it? That could best be served in a memo or e-mail.
- Verify that you are not breaking any rules or laws in a procedure. In large organizations you may have to verify you are not putting the employer or employee in harms way when developing a procedure. If necessary, include the legal basis why a policy and procedure was developed in the policy portion of the procedure.
- Google it. Before you start writing a policy, search online to see if any other organization have written a similar policy. Don't plagiarize the procedure. Instead, just read it and create yours based on the ideas of the one you find.
The Pros of Using Policy and Procedure
Below are the pros in developing a policy and procedure:
- Allows for a uniformed way to do things. Without having a policy and procedure in place it could allow for people to do things the way they want. They could make missteps or cause errors in the process. Policy and procedure solves that problem.
- It eliminates the constant asking of questions from staff. As a supervisor I constantly receive questions from my staff. Now that our policy and procedure is fully updated, I can just point them to the procedure to answer their questions. However, sometimes clarification on procedure is necessary.
- Policy and procedure holds employees accountable. If done correctly, the use of policy and procedure can hold your staff to a specific standard. Someone can't say they weren't aware of something or there is nothing for them to refer to. With policy and procedure, it keeps staff aware of what is expected of them.
- Great for training new employees. When I receive a new employee, I spend the first day or two working closely with them. I show them the bulk of the job, but then I walk away. The one thing I leave them with is policy and procedure. As they have questions, I direct them to that procedure. They learn about the job and where to go if they have questions. Plus this frees me up to do my job.
- It can set goals. The great thing about having job duties in writing is that it can set goals for your staff. The procedure can outline what has to be done and when it has to bed one by. Staff can treat that as a goal for themselves in an effort to promote, earn raises, etc.
Rule A: Don't. Rule A1: Rule A doesn't exist. Rule A2: Do not discuss the existence or non-existence of Rules A, A1 or A2.— R. D. Laing
The Cons of Using Policy and Procedure
Below are the cons in developing a policy and procedure:
- It stifles creativity. Staff feel as if they have no freedom in their decision making. They won't think outside of the box or find new, creative solutions to a problem if they feel they always have to follow a set procedure. I always tell my staff that procedures are meant to be guidelines, not hard and fast rules. As long as you reach the goal successfully, the how doesn't matter.
- Requires constant updating which can be time consuming. Whenever something changes someone has to go back to a policy to revise it. When a new job duties arises, someone has to write up the procedure on how to do it. It's a very time consuming process. Each week I am dealing with updating, reviewing, or planning out how to update a policy and procedure.
- It can stunt the growth of an organization. A lot of employees go back to the phrase that something has "always been done this way so why change it?". This isn't the same as stopping someone from being creative. Instead, policy and procedure can hold back change in an organization if someone has a document that states something has always been done a certain way.
- Employees can interpret a step in a procedure multiple ways. Someone may read a step one way, while another can read a step a different way, when the writer of the procedure could have meant something completely different. Words on a piece of paper are open to interpretation. So when a procedure is developed, especially a lengthy one, there should be some verbal communication about it.
- They are boring to write. I have sometimes spent multiple days in a row writing and revising procedure. It can be a very long and drawn out process, so it's not the most exciting thing in my job. The problem with it being boring is that you are more apt to make mistakes, which is why having multiple people check the policy after any revisions is important.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2014 David Livermore