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How to create a company policy: Starter guide for SMEs

Every business, including small- and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs), can benefit from having policies in place. Especially as your company and workforce grow, policies are necessary to guide the decisions and behaviours of your team. If you want to craft a policy for your company, Export Development Canada (EDC) has prepared this quick guide to help you get started.

What’s a policy?

A policy is a simple document that provides employees, including management, with a set of values and guiding principles for their daily interactions, activities and conduct. 

A policy can cover a specific topic or issue. For example, a privacy policy, workplace safety policy or anti-discrimination policy state specific commitments and standards related to that particular subject. A policy can also cover a range of topics or issues. An example is a code of conduct that defines the basic standards of employee behaviour. While some businesses have standalone policies for specific issues, others have an overarching policy that integrates many policies into one.

What are the benefits of creating a policy?

Some companies operate with “unwritten” rules and expectations, but formalizing policies and putting them in writing makes good business sense. Here are a few compelling benefits: 

  • Acts as a key management tool. An effective policy helps shape your company culture and expected business behaviours, and makes it easier to hold employees accountable for their conduct. 
  • Protects your business. A formal, well-written policy can reduce potential risk and liability for problems that may surface—internally or externally.
  • Provides a go-to reference for your team. A clear, easy-to-understand policy educates and empowers employees to do what’s right for your business, and can prevent misunderstandings. A policy also helps orient new recruits to your company norms and culture. 
  • Sends a powerful external message. A good policy is an opportunity to signal your business standards and expectations to customers, partners, regulators and other stakeholders. Having detailed policies that address key issues in today’s evolving workplace is considered good business practice.  

Tips for policy writing

  • Engage your team. Involve both management and employees to help determine the policy goals and content. Ensure buy-in from leadership.
  • Make it understandable. Ensure the policy is clear, easy to read and uses plain language. If people understand it, they’re more likely to follow the policy and incorporate it into their daily activities. 
  • Keep it concise. Provide the right level of information. Don’t overwhelm readers with unnecessary details.
  • Reference external guidelines. Consider mentioning any relevant laws, regulations and industry standards that were used to inform your policy. 
  • Design it for easy navigation. Organize your policy into digestible sections and highlight key important points. Consider a reader-friendly design and layout.
  • Do a final review. Get the required approvals and reviews from key leaders or department supervisors, depending on the policy topic.

What should a company policy include?

Whether you want to create a policy that covers company standards related to the environment, diversity, safety or any other topic, there are certain common elements found in all policies. Below are general guidelines of the type of content to include, geared for SMEs. 

It’s important to note that policies differ from one organization to the next and every company will pick and choose the relevant components to include in their policy. For instance, a large company or government agency will tend to have longer, more detailed documents while SME policies are typically more concise. In the end, your company policy(ies) should be tailored to your unique workplace, goals and business context. 

1. Title and date: Craft a clear, simple title. Include the date the policy takes effect.

2. Approval process: Specify the person or group who approved the policy, and when. This is important to establish accountability. The expectation is that it’s been approved by the highest level of the company.

3. Introduction: Lead with a short summary (one paragraph) about your company’s mission, core activities and values.

4. Purpose and scope of the policy: Outline the overall purpose of the policy. For example, explain why it was created and the main objective (what your company seeks to achieve).

Specify to whom the policy applies. At a minimum, this will include your employees, but the policy may be broader and apply to freelance workers, volunteers, students and interns, contractors and partners.

5. Policy statement: State your company’s commitments on the specific topic, as well as the rules and guiding principles you expect employees (and others, if applicable) to follow.

6. Roles and responsibilities: Identify key positions at your company responsible for administering, monitoring and enforcing the policy. Designate an individual or committee as the policy administrator or overseer. Include contact information.

7. Policy reviews: Outline how often the policy will be reviewed (e.g., every one, two or three years). It’s important to monitor and update the policy periodically to keep the content relevant with changes in law, company or industry practices, and evolving stakeholder expectations.

It’s the responsibility of the policy administrator to keep track of when a policy review is due, and to initiate the review process.

8. Additional information: Depending on the specific issue, there may be other relevant details to include in your policy document. These optional elements may include: 

· List of definitions used in the policy (e.g., unfamiliar or technical terms)
· he process that people can use to report policy violations.
· Consequences for violating the policy
· References used to help develop the policy (e.g., laws, international standards)
· List of related documents (e.g., other company policies, procedures, resources)

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Date modified: 2023-11-23