Once you have reached the stage of business where you have a team of employees and a strategic set of goals to carry out, you will likely find having a set of guiding policies and procedures crucial. These documents serve as both a northern star and foundation for progress. You can tackle these documents on your own, but before you dive head-first into drafting them, let’s review policy and procedure writing basics.

Determine the need

Begin by assessing the need for the particular policies and procedures you’re considering. Is it in anticipation of a situation, such as a fast-growing company that wants to maintain culture and morale? Or in response to a current set of issues or challenges, like compliance, quality control or operational inefficiency?

It is important to understand the difference between a policy and a procedure. Policies communicate an organization’s culture, values, and philosophy and set parameters for decision-making. Policies establish the why’s behind an organization’s actions and decisions. Procedures provide step-by-step instructions and are the how to’s for accomplishing tasks in a way that is consistent with the organization’s policies. Policies and procedures go hand in hand, each affecting the other, and both are a must for running a business effectively and efficiently.

Identify the individuals who will take the lead and play supporting roles

There should be one “owner” of the policies and procedures, however he or she may need support from a working group or committee. During the drafting process, consider collaborating with individuals who will be carrying out the policies and procedures. Receiving “buy in” from stakeholders is important for morale and sense of ownership, and varying perspectives will improve the resulting work.

Do your homework

Don’t put the drafting cart before the horse. First, do your policies and procedures homework. Remember that each policy and procedure needs to be tailored to fit the individual organization considering its industry, the nature of its workforce, and other factors. Other policies and procedures are fairly standard, and for these don’t reinvent the wheel. Are there best practices in your industry or trade association publications to serve as guides? In any case, be sure to get input from the company’s professional advisors, too. Now look to the future. What resources will the company need to educate employees on the policies and procedures, to monitor their effectiveness, and to enforce and update them from time to time?

After all, policies and procedures won’t serve their purpose if they are put in place but then filed away, never to be looked at or talked about again.

Write a draft, get feedback, and tweak

Skip fancy writing, with trendy or confusing language. Instead use plain, jargon-free language that employees can understand. Be as clear and precise as possible. If working on a procedure, ask different groups within the organization to test it. Is it understandable? Are there any gaps or unclear parts or sections that employees could misinterpret? Don’t be discouraged if you don’t nail it on the first try. Getting it “right” will undoubtedly require more than one draft.

Final approval, communication, feedback and updates

Once you have a version you consider to be final, obtain necessary approvals from company executives and professional experts. If you’ve already had conceptual discussions and initial reviews of the proposed policies and procedures with the powers that be, there shouldn’t be any surprises when you request approval. With final sign-off, the newly completed policies and procedures are ready to be communicated to employees. Achieve maximum impact and buy-in,  by including why the policies and procedures are being implemented. Provide an opportunity to ask questions, and information about the process for providing feedback and reporting compliance issues down the road.

The policies and procedures guide employees in the decisions they make at work and in the performance of their daily job-related responsibilities. On an ongoing basis, employees should be able to easily access the policies and procedures any time from virtually anywhere. Share the policies and procedures on the company’s intranet or on a secure, cloud-based platform.

Once the newly crafted policies and procedures become part of your organization, the work is still not complete. Policies and procedures are “living” documents. Reviewing and updating them annually is crucial to maintaining an accurate pulse on the ever-changing needs of the business and its people.