System.Framework.They.Them.

Recently during ERM (Enterprise Risk Management) training, I was asked the difference between a Standard and a Procedure, and this got me thinking more broadly about terminology and how it changes over time.

I used to be a real stickler for the English language. Luckily, I’ve always enjoyed reading and have never had much trouble with writing either, but this love of language left me challenged by what I saw as misuse of words according to their traditional meanings.

So, what is the difference between a framework and a system? And what’s the difference between a Standard, a Policy, and a Procedure?

In searching both the ISO standards and scholarly articles I found several definitions for framework and management system. Depending on the context there can be subtle differences, but for most of us, they are the same. My preferred definition: it’s how the organization manages its business, (through policies, procedures, technologies, etc) to achieve its objectives.

In the same vein, historically there was a difference between a standard (sets the requirements) and a procedure (describes how to meet the standard), while a policy is the“Why” — it’s the principle the organisation chooses to adhere to.

These days I favour communication of the message, over ‘correctness’ of the language, resulting in a lot of dot points in my emails!

My advice here — don’t produce a document just to look good. Make sure it is appropriate for the people who are meant to read it and follow it. Don’t stress too much about using fancy terminology, though if you are required to follow your organisations naming conventions, just make sure they make sense.

I’ll share one final secret I always follow when producing company documents — “less is more”!