Perfecting Your Processes
When there are thorough processes for everyone in a business to follow it will ensure consistency, save time, proactively manage any potential risk factors and adds value to the business. And whilst you may have already documented certain processes in your business there may also be some items or areas you haven’t considered.
1. Ways to document your processes:
Office Procedure Manual – whether it’s as simple as the process for answering the telephone or a more complex item regarding adherence to regulations, having everything documented in some form of Office Procedures Manual can be a useful guide for everyone in the business. This is especially important for ensuring that everyone follows set procedures which will ensure consistency, adherence to compliance areas and prevent anything being missed. It also makes it much easier for a new person joining the business if they have clear documentation to follow. Clear office procedures can be further enhanced with the addition of templates where needed for specific tasks. For example, order confirmation or marketing emails and each of these templates can be referred to in the relevant area of the manual (so it’s clear which template to use and when).
Checklists – no matter how familiar we are with a task it can sometimes be easy to miss a step in the process (especially when it’s busy) and checklists are a useful tool for reducing the chance of this happening, especially when it’s in a format that requires a tick or a signoff to indicate completion. When there is a clear process to follow it reduces the time spent managing staff and prevents items being missed, especially in important legal and regulatory areas. And like templates each relevant checklist can be referenced in the relevant area of the Office Procedures Manual so that everyone knows which checklist to use and when.
Handy Guides – there are other areas in business which may benefit from being documented in a handy guide format. For example, which suppliers to contact for certain items, shortcuts on using the software system, where to find particular information when you need it, etc. As you come across items like this find a way to record them centrally for future reference, especially if the circumstances are unusual (as it will be easy to forget how you solved a particular problem a couple of years from now). You may decide to keep it all in the one place in the Office Procedures Manual or it may make better sense to create seperate guides to refer to as needed (especially if they’re not items you need to refer to every day).
Training Manual – when you add staff to your business it’s probably because you’re becoming too busy to handle everything yourself and as a result you may have limited time to train them effectively. This is where having a training process documented on the items you need to cover (as well as providing them with all the documents above) can make it easier to do, less likely for you to miss anything and be a smoother transition for the new employee.
Replicating Successful Skills – there will be tasks yourself and/or your existing staff do very well and probably instinctively as a result. However, whenever someone exits the business these valuable skills disappear so consider the skills held by the people in your business (including yourself) and how to document them. For example, when a successful salesperson calls a potential client they probably have a particular process they follow which creates rapport and helps them convert this contact to a new sales opportunity. Whilst it may be something they do instinctively, it’s worthwhile documenting the process for new sales people to ensure they have equal success in the calls they make. And remember that written documentation may not be the best option in cases like this as it may be more effectively taught via role playing and documented via audio or video format instead.
2. How to implement your documented processes effectively:
As processes in a business can change periodically due to internal and external factors, assign someone to maintain and update the documentation so it remains current. It may be the same person for everything or different people for different areas. Additionally everyone in the business should be encouraged to highlight the need for any new process documentation (i.e.: if they notice a gap somewhere or something that needs to be more proactively managed). This could be as simple as a central place to record new suggestions and/or be added as an agenda item to regular office meetings.
Store it somewhere central
Storing information centrally for everyone in the office is easy to do with the advance of central storage options like the cloud. Make sure though that there is only one master document for each item rather than multiple documents in multiple locations and that it’s dated to make it clear which is the most current copy (especially if it’s ever printed onto hard copy). Assigning responsibility for maintenance of the document should help ensure that multiple copies aren’t created, however, password protection on the document itself can also help prevent any amendments being inadvertently made.
Make it pretty
When documentation is well laid out and it’s easy to find the relevant information quickly (via indexes, page headings etc.) it’s more likely to be used. If there are a number of items such as multiple checklists or guides for different tasks then make sure they are labelled clearly in terms of each task and grouped in some way (either alphabetically and/or by the different tasks) so they’re easy to find. And if you decide to sell your business in the future then a well organised and presented area like this will help illustrate to a potential buyer how easy it will be to take over your business and that it has been well maintained in the past (creating a greater sense of value).
To be effective processes need to be used consistently. However, if certain checklists, processes, etc stop being used ascertain first (before addressing it as a performance issue with particular staff members) whether it’s because the item is out of date, needs to be reworked or is no longer serving a useful purpose. Staff job descriptions can also reinforce the need to use office processes consistently. For example, a particular job duty in a staff job description may read as “Follow the new client process with every client as per “New Client Checklist form”. Or (if your system allows) it certain processes can be created as automatic tasks that require completion, before being able to move onto the next stage of the process.
Be careful not to duplicate the information
When you’re choosing how to capture your office processes be careful not to record them in multiple documents. For example, if you have a checklist for something simply refer to that specific checklist in the relevant section of your Office Procedures Manual rather than duplicating everything that’s on the checklist in the Operations Procedures Manual as well. Or you may decide that having a checklist to cover every area in your business works best and that you don’t need an Office Procedures Manual. As long as you’ve documented everything (so the process is clear and everyone knows what to do and when) it doesn’t matter which format you choose to use. What format you choose will also likely vary according to the size and nature of your business as well as your personal preferences.
As discussed above documenting the processes in your business has many advantages. And although it may take a little time to document everything initially (and some periodic maintenance) it will make your business more efficient and effective. Take the time right now to review every area in your business that could benefit from a documented process and make sure these items are used regularly so that they effectively support the successful running of your business.
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