“What helps people, helps business.” Leo Burnett (Advertising Executive)
Attention all business owners: do you want to make your (working) life easier?
Then you may want to check that you have the right set of policies and procedures in your company’s documentation.
Policies vs procedures
Policies are a predetermined course of action, or a rule, developed to help your management team run the organisation. Policies are the way by which your strategy and your business objectives are communicated to your employees. The main “raison d’être” of a policy is to keep things running smoothly in your business and to help people and systems function better – generally speaking, policies lay out what management want staff to do (or, in some cases, not do).
Their close relatives – the procedures – describe how a task(s) should be done. Procedures are step-by-step guides, usually describing ways or methods of carrying out task(s) in accordance with the policy(ies). They are like “how to” checklists for completing a task or process – the day-to-day happenings that need to take place to keep your business running.
Why you need policies / procedures
Firstly, there are some minimum legal requirements for documented policies which your business needs to comply with. Most companies will need to have at the very least a Health and Safety Policy, and set out their Disciplinary & Grievance procedures in writing.
It is also seen as good practice to have written policies in other areas, such as Data Protection; Equality & Diversity; Employee Manual etc. Moreover, there are additional legal requirements for some companies to have certain policies in place; this is usually linked to the size of the organisation, the type of business and industry, as well as local requirements.
Documented policies and procedures can assist your business with the following:
(a) Compliance: with government regulations / legislation, insurance requirements and certain audits. They will also help your business comply with best management practices and standards. Moreover, formal policies can outline legal rights and obligations of your staff, and of your company – a word of caution, though: your legal counsel needs to check and confirm that the policies are legal, and legally binding.
(b) Safety: the workplace will be a safer place with proper procedures, which will reduce opportunities for injury.
(c) Quality: well written procedures help improve quality of work and reduce the number of errors / omissions, as well as reducing waste (time or materials).
(d) Training: not only do procedures make it easier and less time-consuming to train new staff, but they’re also likely to make new employees more productive quicker. Furthermore, procedures clarify the way things should be done, so there’s less need for communication and less confusion about how to do things. Generally speaking, they educate staff about the company; they are useful in promoting the competitive position of your business as an employer of choice – one that provides generous employee benefits, and respect and appreciation for HR management.
(e) Employee empowerment: they give staff a certain degree of freedom to act without constant supervision and to do the right thing, within the limits set by the policy.
(f) Governance: written policies define management standards for making decisions on various organisational or personnel issues. They can also be a useful tool to maintain management control; and to hold staff to certain standards of performance, should the need arise. In addition, they provide a framework for consistency and fairness.
(g) Communication: in addition to clarifying the company’s rules and guidelines, they can be used to communicate management’s plans for growth. Furthermore, a policy document such as a Staff Handbook will be useful in communicating the company’s investment in its employees, providing information on employee benefits and workplace issues.
(h) Efficiency: they help run the company more efficiently and more effectively. For example, a meaningful impact which can be put forward to supervisors and line managers might be the financial loss resulting from failing to implement the policy (or procedures). Well written procedures go a long way in cutting mistakes and improving performance, thus reducing costs. Procedures can also be used as a way to troubleshoot problems with the system(s) and to ensure that production / service delivery goes according to schedule.
(i) Continuity: they provide management continuity. Well documented procedures are the key to successful delegation: they allow someone else to properly handle your tasks; which leads to…
(j) Business Process Development: finally, having documented procedures will put you more in control – and provide a baseline for your business process improvement, as it frees up your time to work “on” your business rather than “in” your business.
General guidelines for writing policies / procedures
The first step is to clarify your business goals and to start with the policy(ies), linking it to your business purpose and objectives. Then the procedures shall follow..
All policies and procedures will have the same form and content; a good policy should tick the following boxes:
• Clear: written in clear language; easily read and understood by a wide audience. Avoid jargon if possible or define any acronym / abbreviation you’re using. Check for typographical errors and spelling mistakes. Make it look good! (appearance and presentation / have a good balance between text and visuals).
• Concise: generally no longer than one page; delete unnecessary words or phrases. Don’t use clichés. All information must be accurate and expressed concisely.
• Coherent: written in a logical way and linked to your business strategy. Some procedures will have clear steps (carry out A, then B, then C); others will need to allow for individual choices or personal judgment (most likely, within set boundaries).
Process for putting policies and procedures in writing
(a) Development: Involve staff who are affected in policy development; those who execute the task daily are best placed to give information on how to do the job. All policies / procedures need to make sense, be easy to follow and they should not interfere with getting the job done. It is a good idea to have someone who’s got a limited knowledge, or no knowledge whatsoever, of the process to “test” the procedure at this stage. Policy development also needs to be coordinated with procedures and standard forms; new or revised policies may need new forms or old forms to be revised.
(b) Control & approval: Documents must be controlled in a suitable manner (usually with a reference number; date of issue or revision; who wrote it; etc.). It is also good practice to have staff who actually do the job review and provide their comments before the policy is finalized and submitted for final approval.
(c) Distribution: new policies / procedures (and revisions) can be communicated in many ways (email; intranet or company website; app; loose leaf binder; etc.). It is highly recommended that all staff agree and sign policy documents, including any new drafts.
(d) Training & implementation: Policy manuals and staff handbook are usually one of the first things given to new employees and will form part of their induction training. However, it is equally important for existing staff to be trained; in some instances, a PowerPoint presentation will be useful so that employees can see and hear about a new policy (or a revised one).
(e) Review: your company’s policy manual is a dynamic, living document that is constantly subject to change and improvement, to make sure your business is using best practice. You should carry out periodic reviews and delete any outdated or obsolete policies / procedures. Which means that, regardless of how the policy manual is communicated, it must be easily accessible in its most up-to-date version.
Although it’s often seen as a time-consuming exercise, the process of developing policies and procedures for your business will increase efficiency and eliminate unnecessary costs. Moreover, the people involved in writing them will get an opportunity to understand current practices better and will have a chance to improve the process; for instance, by getting rid of unnecessary steps. The whole exercise can be an eye opener for ways to make jobs more efficient (cost and / or time) so you have more time for tasks that increase your revenue. Putting your procedures in writing also provides an opportunity to clearly identify responsibilities for tasks to be performed and to explain any division or distribution of authority.
Good policies are developed in consultation with those involved (employees / stakeholders); they are flexible and adaptable to change; and communicated to all the relevant people. The main thing to remember is that your policies and procedures are about what staff can expect from the company and what the company expects of them; in other words, they need to tell people what they need to know, not just what they want to know.
I have a list of the common types of business policies (by no means exhaustive). Drop me an email at email@example.com and I will send it to you.
Which policies / procedures does your company need? I’d be happy to discuss this with you but if you want to do a quick check yourself, there’s a checklist you can use; just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you already have written policies / procedures for your business? I’d be happy to help you review and update them if necessary.