By Chris Stone, Guest Contributor

Sustaining Change

Implementing change in any organization, to achieve a desired future state, will always be a challenge. One of the challenges is to summarize and then put into writing exactly what the organization seeks, both strategically and operationally.

This documentation is most effective when stratified in terms of policies, procedures and instructions.

Policies can address a wide range of topics. Examples include rules for offering price discounts to gain new business or prohibitions against working with suppliers who have unacceptable labor practices.

Procedures serve to guide how an organization will go about doing a particular process. Examples include purchasing raw materials or conducting marketing research. Procedures are commonly called Standard Operating Procedures or SOPs for short.

Instructions provide the step-by-step details of precisely how to perform a task. They are commonly called work instructions and include focused instructions relating to a specific task which needs to be done in an exact order. As an example, consider how Domino’s Pizza produces a pepperoni pizza in a few minutes. There are specific instructions for putting together each ingredient in a certain order as the pie moves along the counter. Then, the pizza is baked at a specific temperature for a prescribed period of time.

Increasing in detail and specificity, documentation moves from broad policy to specific instructions. A successful improvement project will often require updates, or brand new, policies, procedures, and instructions.

Let’s take a closer look at the three types of documentation required to sustain the changes you make from an improvement project.

process change documentation


organizational policies
organizational policies

Policies are principles, rules, and guidelines formulated to influence decisions and ensure actions align with organizational goals.

They enable people to address problems and issues without having to consult executives or specialists for each decision. Policies also address the roles and responsibilities of executive management.

Consequently, key policy statements will serve to shape an organization over the long term.

An effective policy should be:

  • Appropriate – A policy should align with the organization’s core values and stated objectives; conflicts will lead to poor implementation
  • Clear – A policy should be simple and easily understood by all in the organization; avoid jargon and ambiguous language, to avoid misunderstandings
  • Comprehensive – A policy should have a wide scope and handle a wide range of routine scenarios; do not allow a long list of exceptions or loopholes
  • Stable – A policy should be stable, providing certainty to those who look to the policy for guidance

Note that policies are not steps or actions. They are statements which will guide decisions and actions.

Illustrative Policy Example: Herman Miller Supplier Code of Conduct Policy

As industry leader in high end commercial furniture, Herman Miller, holds itself and its suppliers to a high standard in relation to conducting business in an ethical and socially responsible manner. The following policy documents the company objective of maintaining the leading position in the commercial furniture industry. This clear and comprehensive policy communicates the company’s vision to customers, investors, employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders.

Herman Miller, Inc., and its subsidiaries (“HMI”) are committed to conducting business in an ethical, legal, environmentally sustainable, and socially responsible manner. HMI expects its suppliers to share its commitment to creating a Better World with the goals of reducing waste, using resources responsibly, supporting workers’ rights, and advancing the welfare of its workers and the community. HMI expects its suppliers to adopt sound labor practices and treat their workers fairly in accordance with local laws and regulations. In addition, suppliers must comply with the following standards:

  • Freely Chosen Employment
  • No Child Labor
  • Minimum Wages
  • Working Hours
  • No Harsh, Inhumane Treatment or Abuse
  • No Discrimination
  • Freedom of Association

Additional information at: Herman Miller Supplier Code of Conduct

Additional Examples:

  • Approval required for granting large price discounts in order to win new business
  • Authorization required for issuing large value purchase orders
  • Acceptable and unacceptable internet, email, and social media usage for personal purposes at work
  • Customer meals and entertainment over $300 must be approved in advance
  • Quarterly financial results will be reported within 14 days from the end of the quarter
  • The organizations carbon footprint will be reported to the Carbon Disclosure Project once a year
  • Approval is required before any air freight shipment of an order to a customer or from a supplier


A procedure describes the sequence of activities, or set of actions, which is the official, or accepted, way of doing something.

Essentially, a procedure is how a process needs to be done. It ensures you get a consistent outcome.

An effective procedure will contain elements such as:

  • Purpose – why the procedure is required
  • Scope – what needs to be accomplished
  • People – who will perform the action
  • Location – where an activity is performed
  • Resources – what inputs are needed
  • Customer – who gets the outputs
  • Measurement – how do you know it is effective
  • Terms – key definitions and terminology

An added benefit of procedures is their use as training tools. Experienced employees become better through the deeper thinking required to write a procedure. New employees learn quicker when a logical and well written procedure is used for the onboarding process.

standard operating procedures

Illustrative Example: Onboarding a Client at an E-Commerce Professional Services Agency

An e-commerce creative agency executive recently outlined the details of his firms “client onboarding” procedure. He asserted that, if he were starting all over again, this would be the first business procedure he would put in place. The reasoning is how his firm’s first interactions with clients sets the tone for the rest of the relationship.

He outlined his firm’s business onboarding process:

  • As soon as the prospect becomes a client, we send them a welcome email with what’s next and what to expect during our engagement. This email sets the tone, and even includes a personalized thank you video, and a link to schedule the kickoff call.
  • Internally, we create all the project documents and folders needed, send the invoice, and finalize the project timeline and who’s going to be involved.
  • Once the kickoff call is scheduled, we send another email with all the systems and data we need access to in order to perform our work and achieve the desired outcomes.
  • During the kickoff call, we determine key measures of success and establish timelines. We also schedule a fixed time for weekly check-in calls.
  • We send them a company questionnaire to understand how they see their business, their strengths, challenges, and their customers.

The above is only a summary, as the full process is many pages long and highly contextual to the company. It is also important to realize this process is always being updated and improved. With this process, the agency ensures every new project is organized and gets kicked off in a manner which provides a great start for new client relationships.

Additional Examples:

  • Disposal of hazardous materials
  • Predictive maintenance of equipment
  • Managing supplier scorecards
  • Responding to a request for proposal
  • Annual strategic planning
  • Changing over an operating room
  • Creating and processing expense reports


work instructions

A work instruction is the detailed description of how to perform a task. It is step-by-step and much more detailed than a procedure.

Work instructions should be very detailed and explain how to accomplish a specific task. They may also be supplemented with additional documentation, such as technical manuals, support notes, and specifications. Many software tools now have the instructions built into the help menu.

A typical work instruction:

  • Contains fewer than 10 separate actions
  • Outlines a task to be performed by 1 person from start to finish
  • Requires a relatively short time period to complete
  • Leverages visual aids to show the work rather than words which describe the work

Many organizations create work instructions to match the specific tasks referenced in a procedure. This can also clarify who is responsible for doing each task.

Illustrative Example: IKEA Work Instructions

The assembly of an IKEA “Billy” bookshelf is a project, even those with limited skills can undertake, without fear. Clearly, IKEA has put a lot of thought to develop the work instructions for assembling this bookshelf.

  • Each tool and part is enumerated
  • Each step is isolated and requires a kind of mindfulness to do one thing at a time
  • Right and wrong are clearly illustrated with line-drawn figures
  • Graphic presentation, without a single letter of type
IKEA Bookshelf

Using this simple universal graphic work instruction, almost anyone can assemble the Billy bookshelf. These work instructions represent a perhaps under-appreciated factor in IKEA’s ongoing growth and worldwide success. Marketing research has shown that once someone builds an IKEA piece, they are less likely to part with it, a phenomenon now known as the “IKEA effect”.

Work Instructions as “Sustainable Competitive Advantage”? IKEA’s thoughtfully developed work instructions provide it with a competitive advantage, strengthening the connection between company and the customer, who takes pride in self-assembling a product. Creating an emotional connection between a company’s products and the customer is highly desired by companies. Certainly, few would have anticipated that well-developed, thoughtfully designed work instructions would support such an emotional connection and result in a competitive advantage.

Additional Examples:

  • Making the bed
  • Making pizza dough
  • Cleaning an operating room table
  • Entering a customer order
  • Packing an order for shipment
  • Testing a printed circuit board
  • Installing a dishwasher

Bringing It All Together

policies procedures instructions

The challenge for improvement project teams is to ensure the proper documentation is in place when changes are made. It is important to fully understand the distinctions between the types of documentation.

Each type solves different needs. The focus and details increase as this documentation moves from policy to procedure to work instruction.

Don’t create confusion. Many organizations struggle with policies which are vague or completely missing, procedures which contain too much detail, and work instructions which fail to contain all the steps.

The following examples summarize how the three types of documentation could align to form an integrated package.

Hotel Housekeeping:

  • Policy – All guest rooms will be cleaned by 11:00 AM
  • Procedure – Cleaning guest rooms
  • Instructions – How to make the bed

Business Development:

  • Policy – Discounts over 10% require approval from VP of Sales
  • Procedure – Responding to a request for proposal
  • Instructions – Calculating the expected gross margin

About the Author – Chris Stone, Project Manager, RMTAAC in Boulder

Chris is a Project Manager with The Rocky Mountain Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (RMTAAC) in Boulder, where he helps small U.S. manufacturers improve their competitiveness versus import competition. RMTAAC is a federally funded (U.S. Department of Commerce) program that is managed through the University of Colorado, Leeds School of Business.

Over the course of his 18 years at RMTAAC, Chris has helped turn around more than 100 manufacturers across a wide range of industries in the Rocky Mountain Region.

“With my client companies, I like to focus on what is realistic and “do-able,” given a company’s background, experience, and capabilities. Oftentimes, small companies simply don’t know how or where to get started with change. They lack a vision. I view my role as a facilitator and guide, like a business coach, helping companies get moving with key projects, starting small and building upon successes. As companies get comfortable with change and start to see results, they gain confidence and are then able to refine and clarify their vision for the future.”

Chris has worked in manufacturing for more nearly 30 years, beginning in the quality control department of a Colorado Hi-Tech manufacturer. His educational background includes a BA in Economic History, focusing on regional economic development, as well as an MBA from The Leeds School of Business at The University of Colorado.

Beyond the world of work, Chris is an avid sportsman. He likes to keep fit playing tennis, mostly against his daughter and son, along with the occasional mixed doubles with the wife versus the kids, who, these days, generally win.

Contact: Chris

See: LinkedIn profile

Chris Stone Rocky Mountain Trade Adjustment Assistance Center

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