How to Make a Policy and Procedure Manual [+ Free Template]
How to Make a Policy and Procedure Manual [+ Free Template]
March 6, 2023
March 6, 2023
Tango Content Marketing Lead
Hannah is a semi-recovered perfectionist and longtime subscriber to the squiggly model of success. She spent 11 years learning from the best at brands like HubSpot and Food52 and loves running, cooking, and helping people feel A++ at work. 🤗
A policy and procedure manual is a gold mine of need-to-knows for growing businesses—and everyone contributing to that growth.
It explains the what, why, how, and when for day-to-day operations (in writing). And it guides how major decisions will be made, now and into the future.
Don’t love how long it takes to create documentation that no one uses or appreciates?
Do love helping everyone on your team teach, learn, and do their best work?
Join the club. (Literally—there’s a whole community of us!)
Whether you’re a start-with-a-template kind of a person or someone who wants to write their own rules, we’re here to make writing a policy and procedure manual easier, faster, and more fun.
Just in case anyone hasn’t told you lately—this work is important. We’ll help you remember why, and then give you some tips, tricks, and a policy and procedure template.
Common components of a policy and procedure manual
As you might imagine, a policy and procedure manual goes deep into company DNA. It brings together all of the:
Guidelines, goals, and expectations for making decisions at a macro level
Specific and sequential steps for executing the many moving pieces on a micro level
Curious about what goes into a policy and procedure manual? It’ll vary from organization to organization, but here are a few ideas to consider.
Note: As with most things in 2023, shorter = better. Take what you need; leave what you don’t!
Sample Policy and Procedure Manual Topics
Who We Are
Vision, mission, and core values
Strategy and goals
Culture and rituals
Org chart and team directory
How we work
Code of conduct
Training manuals and how-to guides
Customer service procedures
Technology usage policies
Privacy and security policy
Harassment and discrimination policies
Drug and alcohol policy
Disciplinary action policy
Resignation and termination policy
Life at [Your Company]
Flexible work policy
Parental leave policy
Leave of absence policy
Employee benefit policy
Employee stock options policy
Referral bonus policy
Learning and development policy
Non-disclosure agreement policy
Social media policy
Volunteer day policy
Team user manuals
The importance of having a policy and procedure manual
Individual contributors. Managers. Teams. Companies. Customers. Stakeholders. Investors. Shareholders. It’s easier to come up with people who benefit from a policy and procedure manual than people who don’t.
Let’s take a look at four advantages in turn.
It’s easier to take action (in general).
Nothing slows teams down like a lack of information. Access to a resource with all company policies and procedures offers people a starting point to solve problems on their own, make informed recommendations, and empower others to serve themselves. Separate but related: Learn how to create a training manual people will actually use.
It’s easier to streamline internal processes.
This one nearly goes without saying, but as someone who loves to help people take back time: standardized policies and procedures can improve efficiency (dramatically!). Good process documentation gives clear and concise guidance and details best practices, but it doesn’t stop there. A well-executed policy and procedure manual can also reduce confusion, misunderstandings, and avoidable mistakes—and increase consistency, competence, and confidence. What else rises, as a result? Overall productivity.
It’s easier to transfer knowledge.
How long has it been since you were the new kid? If it hasn’t been long, your empathy should know no bounds. If it’s been a minute, chances are you can still point to someone who made the experience less painful. Did that person take you to lunch? Take the time to share institutional knowledge? Show you how to complete a task more efficiently? If yes—may we suggest you treat them to their beverage of choice? These people are your company’s Knowledge Champions. To become one yourself, all you need to do is pay it forward—by teaching your teammates where to look, what to do, and how to navigate exceptions to the rule. Fact: You can do all three of these things with a policy and procedure manual.
It’s easier to dot your i's and cross your t's.
You may be in an industry where compliance is key. If meeting regulatory requirements and industry standards is part of your role and responsibilities, having documented policies and procedures will serve you day in and day out. Mitigating potential risks and liability is a big job—why not make it a little less hard?
Free policy and procedure template
If procedures are the building blocks for business as usual, policies are the foundation. Put the two together, and you should get a blueprint of how your company operates. Easy enough, right? But as anyone who has ever built anything from scratch can tell you, straightforward doesn’t always mean simple.
That’s why we’re passing along everything we’ve learned about creating a policy and procedure manual—as effortlessly as possible.
Here’s the thing about a policy and procedure manual. It’s full of many policies and procedures, not just one.
We’ve been there. Let’s see if we can take policy and procedure writing from the most dreaded part of your day to the most delightful—starting with an easier way to write a policy.
Step 1: Pinpoint the purpose (explain the pain/problem that will be solved).
Ask five people to describe a good policy in one word. We’ll bet you dinner someone says “clear.” Without an obvious (and compelling!) reason to create a written policy, it’s tough to do it well.
Step 2: Validate the need with stakeholders.
What’s rarely a bad idea? A quick gut check. Once you have a solid case for creating a new policy, the next step is to confirm other people are on board, too. Figure out who your final decision makers will be, and get their buy-in sooner rather than later.
Step 3: Decide who will write, review, approve, and announce the policy—and when.
Once you have buy-in at a conceptual level, then you can start ironing out the details—including who will do what, by when. Now you’re looking at the beginning of a game plan.
Step 4: Agree on what to include and what to omit.
An effective policy is *just* as comprehensive as it needs to be. No more, and no less.
Step 5: Determine who the policy will affect—and invite those people into the process, if possible.
Creating a company policy is often a cross-functional effort, with input needed from multiple departments. Crowdsourcing information for your policy serves two purposes. One, it will poke holes in any flawed logic—before you launch it into the world. Two, it will motivate people to champion the policy once it’s live.
Step 6: Research and write your first draft.
Self-explanatory—but not unimportant! You might include: a title, a document header, an introduction/purpose statement, a policy statement, a policy owner, a list of requirements, a list of exceptions, information about enforcement procedures, a glossary of terms, an effective date, and a revision date (if applicable).
Step 7: Link to any related policies and relevant procedures.
What do people tend to appreciate, when they’re being told what to do? Context. Linking to any related policies may help people connect the dots at a high level, and linking to any relevant procedures may save them a step down the road.
Step 8: Confirm alignment with your company’s mission, values, and goals.
If there’s one step on this list that’s underrated and essential, it’s this one. Think of your policies like puzzle pieces. When you put them all together, you should have no doubts about what your company believes in and stands for.
Step 9: Circulate the policy for review and decide when you’ll revisit it.
Here’s your opportunity to get very meta—and make a policy on policy review. Things change quickly, in life and at work. (Wouldn’t it be wild if suddenly we all had to work from home?!) Determining if and when your policies will be up for review—and what that process will look like— should help you plan ahead and pivot when needed.
Step 10: Publish it—where everyone can find it.
The policy you worked so hard on shouldn’t be doomed to collect dust, literally or figuratively. Adding your distribution strategy to your initial to-do list will pay dividends, we promise.
Procedure writing best practices
You didn't think we'd leave you hanging and gloss over how to write a procedure, did you? Check out the 10 steps below.
Step 1: Determine what needs documenting—and confirm it hasn’t already been done.
Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to? Go ahead and write a procedure in zero steps. 🕺
Step 2: Decide where you’ll document it.
The options are endless—and overwhelming. Zeroing in on your platform of choice early on will help inform everything from how you organize your content to how you drive adoption of your training materials.
Step 3: Pick the best format, structure, and layout.
While we’ve listed 10 steps here, there are approximately one million ways to write a procedure. Having some basic rules of the road will help keep information consistent as you codify more of your essential processes.
Step 4: Figure out who you’ll be helping—and what will help them most.
Less text? Fewer long videos? More screenshots, links, and annotations? Asking the people who will be using your documentation what will be most useful is never a bad idea.
Step 5: Connect with subject matter experts.
Everyone's an expert at something—but very few people are experts at everything. To make your procedures as helpful as possible, take a few minutes to connect with people who manage the processes that feed into the training programs, knowledge bases, and/or systems you own.
Step 6: Create a step-by-step guide (in seconds, with Tango!).
This is probably the step that makes you wish for a magic wand the most. Tango is the next best thing—and the secret to conjuring up standarding operating procedures in seconds.
Click through your process and Tango will create a how-to guide like the one below:
Step 7: Do a dry run—and ask a teammate to do the same.
Pressure testing your procedure will help you sort out any kinks in private, before you go public.
Step 8: Make any edits needed to get a 👍🏽.
Did you knock Step 7 out of the park? Skip straight to Step 9.
Step 9: Distribute it to your team.
Your documentation deserves its 15 minutes of fame—and much more.
Step 10: Ask for feedback (and act on it!).
If you’re anything like the other Knowledge Champions we know and love, your to-do list is long and your talents are in demand. Circling back to ask for feedback on something you’ve already shipped may feel like an extra burden, but understanding what is and isn’t working can help you minimize repetitive questions and interruptions in the future.
🪄 Make your how-to guides magical to make, share, and use.
Mistakes to avoid when policy and procedure writing
See also: Five lessons from people who learned the hard way, so you don’t have to.
Confusing policy vs procedure. Remember—a good policy guides what and why. A good procedure explains how and when.
Making policies too hard-and-fast—and procedures far too flexible.
Trying to sound smart and official, when you should be aiming for simple and clear.
Failing to keep documentation easy to find and up to date over time.
Assuming you need to be wholly responsible. How many policies and procedures are cross-functional? If it’s a team effort, don’t be afraid to make it just that.
The bottom line
Putting a policy and procedure manual together may not seem like the *most* exciting assignment, at first. But the reality is, it’s an opportunity to directly impact operational excellence. That’s not nothing, whether you stay with your current company for 10 more months or 10 more years.
If you remember one thing from this post, remember this: less is more.
“A good policy and procedure manual functions like Grand Central Station, or any central hub for transit. It’s a starting point for accessing everything else. People come and go in search of the information they need, but don’t need to stay for very long. Your job is to get people on the same page—literally—and send them on their way. Ideally with more direction than they had coming in.”
Angela Wu Li
Tango's Chief of Staff
How do you start a policy and procedure manual?
Contrary to popular belief, the best way to start a policy and procedure manual isn’t to start writing. It’s to confirm there’s a need for one. Once you’ve identified the purpose, then you can figure out the scope, topics, format, stakeholders, etc.
What are the key elements of a policy and procedure manual?
The key elements of a policy and procedure manual will vary from company to company. Three common categories include “Who We Are,” “How We Work,” and “Life at [Your Company].” Under “Who We Are,” you might include your vision, mission, and core values. Under “How We Work,” you might include your workplace guidelines and training documentation. Under “Life at [Your Company],” you might include your payroll and vacation policies.
Why do you need a policy and procedure manual?
Without a centralized resource to corral key policies and procedures, it’s harder for individuals, teams, and companies to operate day-to-day. With a roadmap for business as usual, everyone can minimize the guesswork at work—and focus on core business initiatives.
Why is a policy and procedure manual important?
A policies and procedures manual sets employees up to do their best work—and companies up to succeed. It answers key questions, resolves ambiguities, details best practices, and defines expected standards for conduct and behavior.
How often should I update my policy and procedure manual?
You should update your policy and procedure manual regularly—ideally as any changes in company operations, regulations, or laws take effect. If your business is changing rapidly, you may consider auditing your policy and procedure manual once a quarter.
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