Procedures: What They ARE and Are NOT

Apr 19, 2016, Written by Sue Miley

Procedures and Policies

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Sometimes your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness…?”  I feel the same way about systems and procedures.  I believe that all businesses need systems to operate effectively and to have a foundation that can support significant growth in a business.  Without procedures, your end product or service will be inconsistent at best and poor quality at worst.

Somehow, just like most things in life, we can take a business that was born from a God-vision and personal passion and suck the life out of it.  We can take our work and turn it into a ginormous manual of heartless rules and regulations leaving no room for creativity, fun, or purpose.

Most entrepreneurs would probably categorize all procedures like this.  In general, the personal makeup of a true entrepreneur is to create the magical vision and move on to the next new thing.  But in order to sustain itself, the business needs guidelines and best practices to support the growing organization and remain competitive.

What Procedures ARE

Procedures are documented, sometimes step-by-step instructions, on how to do functions of a person’s job.  By having these instructions, the company benefits because:

  • Everyone who does the task or activity will do it the way the company has determined to be the most efficient and will achieve the desired goal of the activity.
  • As a company grows and hires new people, they will have detailed instructions on how to complete their job responsibilities.  This is particularly important in small companies because we don’t always have the luxury of a decent training program for new hires.
  • It is now easier to find inefficiencies in a process as we can break it down into the steps and see which step is causing a bottleneck or problem.
  • It provides consistency in deliverables to external and internal customers.  When a customer calls for information they will receive the same answer no matter who they speak to.  If a customer has a problem with a product or service, they will get the same service and treatment regardless of whom they speak to.
  • Procedures show talented, educated, technical people the specifics of how YOUR COMPANY does things.  Documented procedures in a company are different than training to have the skills to do the job.  They are just the nuances of how you may need things done in your company based on your specific products and services and your systems.

What Procedures ARE NOT

Procedures are not technical training to do a job function.  They are not foundational education on the type of company you are.  As an example, a graphic designer will not learn how to do graphic design at an ad agency, however, they will learn procedures on how that particular agency delivers a finished design package to the client.  What type of files?  Do they do a style guide?  Do they provide multiple sizes, color and black and white?

A company’s policies and procedures are not:

  • Step-by-step instructions on how to technically do the job.  Don’t hire someone who can’t type to do your admin work, a procedure manual won’t help them.  Step-by-step Quickbooks instructions do not teach someone Accounting.  If they don’t understand accounting, they will make many mistakes in Quickbooks, even with a How-To-Use-Quickbooks manual.
  • Restrictions on how an individual may bring their personality and creativity to the process.  You can always tell a customer service rep who is going by the book compared to someone who is putting their personality into their service.  The prior may go through all of the steps perfectly like a mechanical robot and miss a key component of customer service–caring.  Another may have warmth and true concern when they are handling your matter.  You will be much more satisfied with the latter.
  • Excuses to not use common sense when something unique comes up that the procedure doesn’t quite fit.  For example, a customer comes in at 4:55 p.m. and wants to buy an expensive piece of jewelry at your store.  The salesperson is new and reads the manual, which states that the store closes at 5 p.m.  She tells the customer they will have to come back tomorrow when you open at 9 a.m.  What?  She followed the procedures!

Don’t Forget To Use Common Sense When Creating Procedures

All businesses need policies and procedures to create the highest quality products and services and to provide internal support for the growth of the business.  However, we need to use common sense when creating procedures.

  1. Don’t skip them all together because you are not a rule follower yourself or a micro-manager.
  2. Try to use procedures to teach the talent or skill you need your team to already possess when you hire them.
  3. Do create simple, easy-to-follow procedures.
  4. Do create procedures that show employees how to do things specific to your company.
  5. Do hold people accountable to the procedures you do have.  If you don’t, you may as well not even waste your time creating them.

The key to effective procedures is creating:

  • only the ones you really need.
  • in a way that people can understand and use.
  • and require them to follow them consistently.

And most importantly, don’t suck the life out of your team by throwing rote procedures at them.  Let them still be themselves.  Let their personality shine and their talent they came with reach its potential.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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