A Policy and Procedure Writing Dilemma: Do you create Separate Policy and Procedure Manuals or do you create a single Document that contains both the Policy and Procedural Statements?
Most of my peers will say that they write separate policy and procedure manuals. In other words, there is one manual that contains only policy documents and there is one manual that contains only procedure documents. I have found few situations where this makes sense. Let me explain my concerns with this practice. In my policy and procedure books, I suggest and make a case for embedding policy statements within procedures and thereby eliminate the need for a second policy manual. My method is far more practical for reference and writing purposes as we will see later in this article.
Referencing Subjects in Two Places becomes unreasonable with SEPARATE Policy and Procedure Manuals
The problem with existence two manuals (policy manual and a procedure manual) is that the policy and procedure of the same or similar topic often contains duplicating information. When a reader references one manual and it points to another manual, it is rare that this person to make the effort to reference the second manual. This is just a fact of life, a fact that I have learned over 30 plus years of experience in the field. Even when physical manuals sit side by side, I have found it rare for the reader to look at one for the policy guidance and one for the procedural guidance.
Let us look at a real example: If I want to read a procedure about recruiting and it references a policy statement in a separate policy manual, it is very unlikely that I will take the extra time to find the policy statement in the second manual. I am more likely to click on a hyperlink in an online manual but even this practice takes my focus away from the current document. And the reader would be fortunate if the reader had taken the time to place hyperlinks within the policy or procedure document that neatly permits the reader to switch back and forth between documents.
This problem of referring to policies and procedures located in two manuals is exacerbated when the manuals physically sit apart from one another. For example, I worked in one company where the policy manual resided on the bookshelf of my manager and the procedure manual resided on a bookshelf closer to the users. Yikes. This practice just exacerbates the readers experience even more because the referenced manual is not even nearby for them to access the referenced documents if they wanted to.
Cumbersome for Writer to Maintain Policies and Procedures on the same or similar Topic
This second problem of maintain a separate policy or procedure manual revolves around the process of keeping policies and procedures up to date. If I write a policy on recruitment practices for a company, there is very likely to be duplication from policy to procedure and from procedure to policy. In my experience, redundancies exist from policies to procedures and it is often difficult to write distinct content about policies and procedures on the same or similar topics.
THERE IS ONE SITUATION Where it Makes Sense to have two Manuals
I only know of one situation where the existence of two manuals makes sense. When a company is striving to become certified in ISO Quality Standards, there is often the requirement (of the standards) to keep policies and procedures separated into two manuals. Therefore, if a company-endorsed program such as ISO Quality Standards, Six Sigma, or Capability Maturity Model (CMM) is in force, then the policies and procedures writer will need to adhere to the requirements of this program even when the practices might not seem practical as in the case of separate policy and procedure manuals.
Now On to What Makes the Most Sense: The Embedded Policy Statement
Since 1984, I have been advocating the use of a writing format that embeds the policy statement with a procedure document. In my seven-section writing format, the third section is the Policy Section and this is where the policy statements are written, no matter how long. The policies and procedures writer can produce one or two type documents: First, a procedure document with embedded policy statements. In the case, the title of the policy and procedure on recruitment might read: RECRUITMENT PROCEDURE.
The second document type is a title that does not use the word, Procedure. The title of the document might be RECRUITMENT GUIDELINES. This practice has been adopted by thousands of companies worldwide in more than 90 countries because it eliminates the need for two separate manuals. In both cases, the third section of the writing format would be labeled, Policy. An example of this writing format follows:
- Revision History
BENEFITS of Using an Embedded Policy Statement in a Procedure
- No need to produce a separate policy manual and a separate procedure manual.
- Quick access and reference to both the procedural statements and the policy statements in one document.
- No duplication of section content within the writing format from policy to procedure or from procedure to policy. For example, if there is a policy on Recruitment and a procedure on Recruitment Processes, the purpose, scope, definitions, and responsibilities sections of the writing format might be duplicated.
- Extremely easy to write policies and procedures using a simple, seven-section writing format.
DISADVANTAGES of Using an Embedded Policy Statement in a Procedure
- When management demands a separate policy and procedure manual and is not convinced of embedding policy statements within a general type document.
- When management has adopted a standard like ISO 9000 Quality Standards, Six Sigma, or Capability Maturity Model and that standard requires the creation of separate policy and procedure manuals.
The writing dilemma of writing two separate policy and procedures manuals or using generic policy and procedure titles and embedding the policy statements within section three of the seven-section writing format is no dilemma at all because when you take a close look at this method of using section three of the seven-section writing format to depict the policy statements, I think you will agree with my rationale and advice.
So do yourself a favor, and learn to embed your policy statements within a procedure document, and better, title your documents in a general way while at the same time, embedding the policy statements early in the policy or procedure documents.