Difference Wiki

Guideline vs. Policy: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on November 27, 2023
Guideline refers to a non-mandatory recommendation or advice for best practices. Policy refers to a set of principles or rules that govern actions within an organization.

Key Differences

Guidelines offer recommended practices or advice to achieve optimal results; they are generally not mandatory. While, policies are formal rules set by an organization that members are required to follow.
Guidelines serve as a reference point, helping in decision-making or actions, without imposing strict rules. Policies, contrastingly, establish firm rules and procedures that dictate specific actions and behaviors.
In organizations, guidelines often provide flexibility, allowing individual discretion based on circumstances. Whereas, policies are more rigid, providing clear, definitive instructions or standards.
Guidelines are typically advisory and can be adapted as per the situation or need. Meanwhile, policies are usually binding and are enforced by the organization to maintain consistency and order.
While guidelines can be considered best practices, they leave room for interpretation. Policies, however, are often non-negotiable and are enforced to ensure compliance.

Comparison Chart


Advisory and recommendatory
Mandatory and regulatory


High; allows for discretion
Low; strict adherence required


To guide and suggest optimal practices
To govern and regulate actions


Typically non-binding
Binding and enforced


More adaptable to situations
Less adaptable, more rigid

Guideline and Policy Definitions


A principle that guides decisions and achieves rational outcomes.
Her personal guidelines for investing helped her make wise choices.


A deliberate system of principles to guide decisions.
Their environmental policy focuses on reducing carbon emissions.


A general rule, principle, or piece of advice.
As a guideline, always save 10% of your income for retirement.


A statement of intent implemented as a procedure.
The new privacy policy protects customer data more effectively.


A rule or piece of advice on how something should be done.
The teacher gave students guidelines for completing the project.


A definite course of action intended to influence decisions.
Government policy on healthcare aims to improve access for all citizens.


A recommendation that advises but does not compel.
The health department issued guidelines for a healthy diet.


A course or principle of action adopted by an organization.
The company's policy on workplace harassment is very strict.


Non-mandatory advice or standard.
The company provided guidelines for remote work during the pandemic.


An adopted rule or method within an organization.
The school's attendance policy requires a note for any absences.


A statement or other indication of policy or procedure by which to determine a course of action
Guidelines for the completion of tax returns.


A plan or course of action, as of a government, political party, or business, intended to influence and determine decisions, actions, and other matters
American foreign policy.
The company's personnel policy.


A non-specific rule or principle that provides direction to action or behaviour.
He considered the Ten Commandments more as a guideline than a requirement.


A course of action, guiding principle, or procedure considered expedient, prudent, or advantageous
Honesty is the best policy.


A plan or explanation to guide one in setting standards or determining a course of action.


Prudence, shrewdness, or sagacity in practical matters
It is never good policy to speak rashly.


A light line, used in lettering, to help align the text.


A formal rule describing how a situation must be handled; - used as a direction to administrators from superiors.


A light line that is used in lettering to help align the letters


A detailed plan or explanation to guide you in setting standards or determining a course of action;
The president said he had a road map for normalizing relations with Vietnam


A rule or principle that provides guidance to appropriate behavior


Is a guideline mandatory?

No, a guideline is generally advisory and not mandatory.

Do guidelines provide specific instructions?

Guidelines offer advice but often allow for individual discretion.

Are guidelines legally binding?

Typically, guidelines are not legally binding.

Can an organization operate without guidelines?

Yes, but guidelines help in maintaining best practices.

Do policies apply to everyone in an organization?

Yes, policies are generally applicable to all members of an organization.

How are guidelines created?

Guidelines are usually created based on best practices and expert advice.

Can guidelines be changed easily?

Yes, guidelines are more flexible and can be adjusted as needed.

Can guidelines become policies?

Yes, guidelines can evolve into policies if adopted formally.

Can policies be ignored?

Ignoring policies can lead to disciplinary actions in an organization.

Can policies differ between organizations?

Yes, policies are specific to each organization's needs and goals.

Is a policy a rule?

Yes, a policy is essentially a rule set by an organization.

Do policies need to be formally documented?

Typically, policies are formally documented for clarity and enforcement.

Are policies always strict?

Policies tend to be strict to ensure consistency and compliance.

Is it possible to have conflicting guidelines and policies?

Ideally, no; guidelines and policies should be aligned, but conflicts can occur.

Who enforces policies in an organization?

Policies are usually enforced by management or a dedicated team.

Are policies subject to legal review?

Often, especially in large organizations, policies may undergo legal review.

Are guidelines less important than policies?

Not necessarily; they serve different purposes and are both important.

Can an individual set personal guidelines?

Yes, individuals can set personal guidelines for their behavior or actions.

Can guidelines influence policies?

Yes, effective guidelines can inform and shape organizational policies.

Can guidelines be open to interpretation?

Yes, guidelines often allow for some interpretation based on the situation.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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