How much time and money do you and your employees spend ‘re-inventing the wheel’? To create a solid foundation for your business, consider writing policies and procedures and cataloguing forms and spreadsheets.
If you haven’t run for the hills, read on for some ideas on how to make this seemingly impossible task happen in your business. Let’s start by looking at the five main benefits and pitfalls.
- Increases productivity because people know what to do, how to do it and the standard required.
- Assists development of job descriptions and indicators of employee performance.
- Provides the basis for induction and other training programs.
- Reduces waste, in time and money, by identifying gaps and overlaps.
- Can improve saleability of the business.
For example: Employees appreciate consistency. An interviewee for a job at a digital media company cited their frustration at the time and energy lost through inconsistent procedures as the main reason they were leaving their current employer.
- You spend months (or years) creating documents that never get updated, aren’t used and aren’t tested and may be inaccurate
- Documents may be inaccessible.
- Templates used are too complex.
- The scale of the project leads to abandoning it.
- Appears to create extra work.
For example: Wanting to achieve ISO 9001 Certification, a small aviation company spent four years starting then stopping before consolidating what they had, developing what they needed and achieving the certification they sought.
Getting Staff Buy-in
It’s sadly true that few staff members crack open the champagne at the thought of documenting procedures. So how do you get their support? Here’s a few tips:
- Be the example by documenting your own procedures and following any agreed rules.
- Appoint someone Document Manager to oversee the project and ongoing review of the documents produced.
- Ask your employees’ opinions and where appropriate act on them: - What are the benefits and pitfalls? How can we minimise the pitfalls and maximise the benefits? If you’ve worked with written procedures before what worked? What didn’t?
- Write a clear achievable schedule and allow people time to develop documentation.
Do We Need Special Software?
There is software that can help you develop procedures (Google ‘Process Mapping Software’) and others to store documents (Google ‘Document Management Systems’), however, you can probably use existing software. For example, MS Word allows you to track changes and create PDFs. The Document Manager can retain the Master Copies in MS Word on their computer and load PDFs onto a shared drive. Remember to regularly update any printed copies. Essentially you’ll need to:
- Upload and retrieve documents
- Store master documents
- Save documents so they can’t be altered
- ‘Track changes’ on master documents
Getting Down to Business
While there are many ways of documenting processes, a cascading approach allows everyone to understand where each document fits into the overall running of the business. Here’s how to do it:
1. Start with the simplest linear flowchart of what your business does. Usually there will be a box for each area of your business. It might look something like this:
2. Divide each of these boxes into a process or series of procedures. For example: Manage Staff / Resources might become:
- Recruit staff
- Conduct performance appraisals
- Source equipment / office supplies
3. For each of these list the more detailed procedures (also called Work Instructions), forms, spreadsheets, policies, legislation, Awards and templates that support the process. For example: Recruit Staff might become:
- Maintain relationships with recruitment agencies
- Maintain a list of trade publications to advertise positions
- Understand relevant legislation
- Discrimination and Harassment Policy
- Disciplinary Action Policy
- Timesheet form
- Request for leave form
4. With your staff develop a list of procedures and documents that currently exist or need to exist. Cut out any obsolete documents.
5. Explain the Procedure Template (see below) to staff so they have an idea of what is required of them. Set up training if required e.g. proficient computer users can pair with those that don’t use computers.
6. Collaboratively agree the process everyone will follow in terms of developing their documents and giving them to the Document Manager for addition to the system.
7. Allocate people to develop and test each procedure. Estimate the time people will take – then triple it. Using the list of documents and the estimated times, write an achievable schedule.
8. Develop a Document Register (an Excel Spreadsheet is ideal), detailing: - Document Name - Document Number - Current Version - A description of the document - Roles that use the document - Who can authorise changes to the document - Date of the last review - Date of the next review - Places where soft and hard copies are stored
9. Collectively, start working the plan, modifying it as necessary.
Templates create consistency and ensure necessary information is captured. Each procedure or instruction needs to have (other documents should have asterisked items):
- A name*
- Possibly a document number (develop your own numbering system)*
- The date of creation*
- The date of last review*
- The current version*
- The roles that use it
- Who can authorise changes*
- Page numbers*
Ideally, put this information in a header or footer.
Consider including the following sections in procedures:
- Background: Relevant information that puts the document context within your business.
- Objective: What particular activity does the document describe?
- Applies to: What specific roles will use this document? What specific qualification or expertise, if any, are required?
- Flowcart: A visual overview of the detailed instruction to follow.
- Steps: Write detailed steps required to complete the tasks. Explain where things are kept, what they look like, anything that will help someone undertake the tasks.
- Definitions: Explain any technical terms, abbreviations or acronyms.
- What can go wrong: Provide advice on what to do when something doesn’t go to plan.
- References: List any references that you used to compile the document.
- Related documents: List any forms, spreadsheets etc required to complete the procedure.
This article touches on the basics of documenting your business. In practice the process can seem laborious and never-ending. However, it can reduce stress, improve productivity and increase the saleability of your business. Persevere and enjoy the time saved evolving instead of reinventing.