I had a conversation the manager of a branch of a national corporation which illustrated five important points for businesses of any size:
- Policies and procedures must exist
- They must be accessible
- They must be current
- Staff must be trained on them
- They must be enforced
I was speaking to him about problems he was having getting production occurring in a timely manner, some of those problems were out of his control because they were generated by another department in the regional office. After he got done telling me about several of those issues, I asked, “Aren’t the policies issued and accessible?” His answer was that they were but they aren’t current or accurate. He’d been told in several instances when bringing up a point out of their policy and procedures manual that something “is old” or “isn’t used anymore” or similar statements.
This is a huge problem. When you’re building a business you evolve policies and procedures that work best for your business. Some of them are born out of the need to comply with the government laws and regulations, some of them evolve from trial and error.
Policies and Procedures Must Exist
No matter how or why you evolve your policies you must have them. They form the structure of your business. They contain know-how concerning producing your products or deliver your services, including any proprietary information.
To be truly useful and effective these policies and procedures must completely workable, meaning that anyone in the company can apply them and get the intended result.
They should be clearly written and easy for employees to understand and apply on the job.
Policies Must Be Accessible
It doesn’t do your business any good if your policies aren’t easy to find and review whenever needed. The first requirement for accessibility is that the policies have to be written. Setting policy verbally isn’t enough. Second you need to keep your written policies in files or binders where staff can easily get to them. Soft copies stored in a shared folder on the company network would meet this requirement as well.
Policies Must Be Current
There are a lot of things that can change in your business which can affect how to do things. You might develop a better way of doing something. Regulations might change. New technologies might emerge. When these things occur, you must revise your written policies to reflect those changes. You have to be very consistent about this. When your staff start talking about a policy as “old” or “we don’t do that anymore” all of your policies can end up being questioned.
Staff Must Be Trained On Your Policies
This is kind of obvious but it’s sometimes omitted. The best approach is to have a systematic training program that ensures that all employees study all of the policies that pertain to their positions. You can’t very well expect people to follow policies they haven’t read.
Policies Must Be Enforced
If your policy is that the waiting room must have green chairs, then you must not allow anyone to put blue or red chairs in the waiting room.
If you don’t all five of the above, the speed and quality of your delivery, your customer service and many other things will likely become inconsistent and unpredictable. When that happens you lose customers.
These five points apply a “one-man band” or a national company. Policy becomes increasingly important as an organization grows in size and/or complexity. The bigger the organization the more policy is needed. But even if it’s just you in your business, you will benefit from having definite policies established about how you do things. This will help keep you consistent which will help you retain customers and generate word of mouth.