Policy vs Standards vs Procedures

June 13, 2022

How can we ensure that employees and individuals inside any business use technology in the manner that the organization expects? Previously, we discussed Why Every Organization Needs Information Security Policies. Any business will take steps to secure its information assets; and how that business will do so should be documented and described in their information security policy. However, policy drafters have been known to be confused about the differences between policy, procedure, standard, and guidelines. They mix and match various notions or combine them into a single document.

Why is it important to have a well-documented framework in place?


These ideas are distinct, but they are intertwined. We can formalize our expectations by implementing rules, procedures, and guidelines. It is not enough for us to simply state our expectations verbally; we need written documentation to help users conceptualize our expectations so that they can refer back to the documented policies. On the other hand, written documentation helps to reduce complexity because we must be clear with our words; otherwise, policies, for example, will not be followed because they are confusing, and people will not understand them. It is important to document a process in such a way that someone new to the team can refer to the document and complete the work.

So why should you be concerned about policy vs. standard vs. control vs. procedure? 


Because policies, standards, and procedures are distinct, each serves a specific purpose and fulfills a need. Words are the foundation of governance. Understanding the significance of these ideas is critical in order to correctly execute cybersecurity and privacy governance inside a business that goes beyond simply using the correct terminology. The deployment of hierarchical documentation, which entails bringing together the proper people and job functions to provide suitable instruction, is indicative of a well-run governance program.

What exactly do these terms imply?



A policy is a decision made by the governing body of an organization, and it  is usually an internal decision made by a company to improve its operations. A policy is a statement which articulates a principle that its intended audience should follow, and each should state a critical issue related to the company's long-term goals, and must be followed at all times.

For example, a workplace health and safety policy highlights the importance of safety to the company, and to those  covered by the policies. The health and safety policy should be in line with strategic objectives, such as improved service quality, reduced costs, and fewer injuries. 

As another example, a company’s governing board may agree that legal services will examine any third-party contracts, so they create a policy stating that aside from legal services, no other department in the company has been given permission to review third-party contracts for privacy and security. 

Policy is WHY we should be doing something.


Standards are necessary courses of action or regulations that provide support and direction to  formal policies. Getting a company wide consensus on what standards should be in place is one of the more difficult aspects of  creating standards for an information security program. This is a time-consuming process, but it is necessary for your information security program to succeed.

Standard is a term that's used to describe how a user is likely to behave like a uniform company email  signature, for example. It’s possible that you'll be able to define which hardware and software solutions are available and supported. It is possible for a third-party norm to be voluntary or mandatory. Typically, the default position is that they are optional.

Standards are WHAT we should be doing.


Procedures are a collection of actions that must be followed in order to complete a task or process in accordance with a set of rules. Procedures assist in determining how an organization actually implements a policy, standard, regulation, or control, and must be followed at all times. 

There can be no defendable evidence of proper care activities without documented procedures. They are typically established and maintained by the process owner / asset custodian,  but stakeholder review is anticipated (and encouraged) to verify that applicable compliance standards are met. A procedure's output is intended to fulfill a specified control. In some circumstances, procedures are also referred to as control actions.

Procedure is HOW we should be doing something.

To Sum It All Up


There is a distinct difference between policies, standards, and procedures. Each has a purpose and fulfills a specific requirement. Policies serve as the foundation, with standards and procedures serving as the building blocks. Keep in mind,establishing an information security program takes time. It is a deliberate, organization-wide approach that necessitates input from all levels. The day-to-day actions necessary to run your firm can be made more efficient and profitable by getting organization-wide consensus on policies, standards, processes, and guidelines.

Does your organization need support in either constructing or restructuring your policies, standards, and procedures? We do this type of work at Idenhaus all the time, and would love to be your partner in streamlining your business processes. Schedule some time with one of our experts here

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