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Build a procedure manual to get things done right

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We are getting ready to hire another key person to help with our growing operation. I can see that it would help to build a manual – for someone else to come on board – but how do I build one?

Thoughts of the Day: Procedures manuals create real value for a company. Document as you train. Store documents on a shared drive and ask everyone to contribute. Expect to go through three to four revisions to get it near perfect. Look to your industry trade groups, support vendors and peers for examples.

When someone looks to buy a company, one of the things they look for is a set of procedures that tell them how to do things. If the company’s procedures are documented, a buyer will see the company as more valuable. You might as well create value on a day-to-day basis by building procedures as you go.

Writing down how to do things has a number of advantages. First, there is a document that can be referred to for training new employees. Second, as people contribute to procedures, there becomes one standard way which everyone follows. Third, as procedures get perfected they become a record of best practices.

One of the easiest ways to create procedures is to build them one step at a time. As new employees come on board, assign a trainer. Ask the trainer to make notes on the general topics they will be covering. Then ask new employees to keep detailed records, logging all of the things they are learning, step by step.

Have the trainer and new employee review the log book each day. This is a great way to assess how the employee is doing, looking at what’s been learned, what errors need to be corrected, etcetera. Each day, have the trainer and trainee make edits in the log book, to correct any misunderstandings. As owner or supervisor, periodically ask to take a look at the training log book, to be sure it’s being used and to see how things are progressing.

Once an employee is fully trained on a task, ask her to type up detailed notes from the log book. Review one last time, for any final edits. File the notes on a shared drive, where others can access them. Send out a notice that a procedure has been written up, and ask others to take a look and provide feedback.

When the next employees come on board, give them the draft procedure and ask them to try to perform the task from the procedure. Ask them to make notes on where they get stuck – that’s a place in the procedure that needs clarification. Add updates to the procedure, hand it to the next person being trained and so on, until the procedure is complete. It usually is near perfect after three or four people have used the procedure to learn how to perform the task.

Many industry trade groups have examples of industry specific procedures. Human resources vendors should have valuable documents to share on employee benefits and policies. Vendors may have best practices to share, especially if they do a lot of work in your industry.

Think about building a supply chain manual, linking together best practices from one vendor to the next. Start with ordering supplies, followed by recording how orders come in the door, get turned into products or services, and flow out to customers.

Practically everything in the company will benefit from someone taking the time to write up a procedure. It saves time on interruptions and delays if people can go to look up a document rather than looking for a person to explain things. It also cuts out misunderstandings, as people look critically at how they describe the work they do.

Finally, procedures can speed up training. Generally, people remember only 15 percent of what they hear. They remember 50 percent of what they write down and up to 85 percent of what they hear, write down and play back through the procedure process.

Looking for a good book? Try “Best Practices in Policies and Procedures” by Stephen Page.

Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., strategyleaders.com, a business-consulting firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurial firms grow. She can be reached at (877) 238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi? Please email it to AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com or mail to Andi Gray, Strategy Leaders Inc., 5 Crossways, Chappaqua, N.Y. 10514. Visit AskAndi.com for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.

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