“Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing… layout, processes, and procedures.” ~Tom Peters
“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” ~General George Patton
I’m not a lawyer, and barring something unforeseen, neither are your employees (full disclosure, I once had an ex-lawyer as an employee). So why is your Policy and Procedure Manual and/or Standard Operating Procedures written like legislation going in front of Congress? If you want to get the benefit of an instruction manual or a policy, it needs to be written in a way that speaks to the audience, in this case your employees. I recommend three basic guidelines when I’m tasking someone with policy or procedure writing:
- Give them the “Why” – The most important thing is conveying the purpose of a policy or procedure. Your policies are like a framed painting in the museum. The frame is the boundaries you have put in place, the step by step, rules, etc. But the “why” is the painting itself. If you don’t explain the “why”, then you have no substance, and the intent is too easily lost. The “why” gives the policy or procedure its importance.
- Less is more – Learn to live within the flexibility. If you explain the “why”, then you do not need to exhaustively explain every single permutation and scenario that can possibly come to pass. Also, your audience has a finite attention span, so leave out the extras and stick to the most important points. Nothing is as useless as a 2,000 page manual on how to do a job.
- Help them find what they want – No more than three clicks or page turns away. If you must print it off for everyone, spend the extra dollar to have it tabbed/paginated correctly. If your staff can’t find what they need quickly, then these policies and procedures are basically useless. Yes, you will go over it in new hire training, but it should also be a reference, and for that reason it needs to be easily navigable.
Legal writing often buries things deeply in a web of irrelevant and “big worded” nonsense. Be careful as a manager to ensure that your policies and procedures serve their purpose of informing and directing the behavior of your employees. Too often they are used to limit liability, or to sound impressive to a VP or HR department head. Great leaders serve their staff, and keep their needs at the forefront.