Understanding Programs, Policies, and Procedures

April 27, 2011 2 Comments


Tourist Attractions & Parks magazine Blog Editor Allen F. Weitzel has spent 45 seasons in the recreation field and is safety and training manager at a California amusement park.


By Allen F. Weitzel

Welcome to Tourist Attractions and Parks Magazine’s Management Blog. I hope you like what you read and post your comments, so together we can generate good ideas and advice in the all-important area of amusement facility management.

As a business professional, it drives me crazy when I see managers who do not know the differences between programs, policies and procedures. I often wonder how they keep their doors open. It is important that your staff know the goals of the company and how to achieve them. These document systems are the basis for every management tool used to convey company goals.

When you train your employees, you need to know what kind of document to use. Documents are created for a variety of reasons: employee education, explaining company rules, stating a response to a legal requirement, sharing the company vision statement, as an internal communication for ease of operation, for researching a concern, or as a public relations statement, etc. You would not send a two-line email to all your employees to train them on the details of a new safety procedure. Proper use of programs, policies and procedures will sort out overlapping data, and help you present material correctly to the end user.

What Is A Program?

A program is a document explaining a goal; who is responsible for achieving the goal, any legal or binding requirements, and what the result will be. Programs might be tied to legal regulations. They explain the overall system to both the employees and the outside governing agency about what is done to address a topic. A program will outline how outside agencies or other departments/people interface with your company. Programs state the goal and then point to policy and procedure documents used to address the goal. If the program were responding to a law, the text of the law should be included in the program document. A program does not cover the small details. The program simply outlines who does what and why. An example might be a Heat Illness Program.

What Is A Policy?

Policies present the company principles. The policy tells the employees about the company requirements regarding a specific topic (employee grooming, nametag requirements, vacation policy, etc.). Policies may or may not be tied to a legal requirement, but the policy states what the company philosophy is for that topic. Policies stay within the company. Policies are company rules. A policy for a heat illness program would tell managers what actions they are required to implement to care for employees on a hot day. A policy can also be a stand-alone document that is not necessarily tied to a program or procedure.

What Is A Procedure?

A procedure describes the process of getting the work done or achieving a goal. Procedures are described in training materials, such as guides, handbooks, checklists, on-the-job training memos, etc. Procedures are normally instructions to employees describing exactly how to implement policies or programs by stating precise steps that need to be followed. A heat illness policy states that a manager must provide shade for employees, and a procedure would state exactly how that shade is provided.

What About Philosophies?

Philosophies are tied to the heart of a policy. The company president has a core philosophy that he or she wants the organization to follow. Therefore, in establishing policies, a leader should be able to describe their philosophy in very few words. A statement about cost cutting would not be considered an overall philosophy, but a directive toward meeting a short-term goal. That would be contained in a policy. A statement that a company leader believes strongly in constant training would be more in line with an overall philosophy. Philosophies are normally shared in a vision statement.

Knowing the differences between these documents and how they overlap is not exciting data, but it is critical information to know and how to use properly if you want to maintain a profitable and efficient operation. It will also make your job much easier and less confusing when training your employees.

(Allen F. Weitzel is a safety and training manager at a California amusement park. During Allen’s 45 seasons in the recreation field, he has managed every department known to exist in the amusement industry.)

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2 Comments to “Understanding Programs, Policies, and Procedures”
  1. Barbara Carmichael says:

    EXCELLENT ARTICLE!~ The ideas have applications to a broad range of industries.

  2. Dear Ms. Carmichael,

    Thanks for reading our Blog. Glad you liked it. It’s nice to know
    that readers can gain value from
    our words, beyond the boundaries of our amusement industry. As my
    first boss told me, “If you have good supervisory skills
    and leadership instinct, you can manage any task, department or
    industry.” Thanks for joining us. -Allen

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