What are procedures? Procedures are documents that describe business processes. Procedures are one tool we can use to train new and current employees how our processes work, and sometimes we show them how processes interact. Procedures can also help ensure a high degree of consistency in how processes operate and in the results they yield. On the other side, can maintaining procedures have more costs than benefits for your company?
Maintaining procedures is a pain for a lot of companies. Many organizations write procedures with one goal in mind — compliance.
Not that there’s anything wrong with compliance. Either there’s a compelling business reason for you to comply, like a larger organization that says they won’t do business with you unless you comply with a certain standard, such as ISO 9001. Or, there are laws with which you have to comply simply to stay in business (for instance, worker safety and food safety regulations).
Strangely, when compliance is the most important — or the only — goal, companies often forget about their procedures once they’ve implement them. Instead of monitoring and measuring, reviewing, and adjusting their performance — gradually and continually improving the process — they put the Almighty Book of Policies and Procedures in a hallowed place on the shelf and ignore it.
Why is that? Well, here’s what some companies say about procedures:
It’s true — your customers aren’t buying your internal procedures. What ARE they buying? Yes, they’re purchasing a product…but is it just the product or service they’re buying? Of course not.
Besides paying for goods or services, your customers are paying for the quality of your product, your ability to produce a consistently good product, and/or your ability to act on problems quickly and efficiently. They like the fact that you don’t make excuses — you just fix problems. How do you do that without capturing lessons learned into best practices. Implementing effective policies and procedures, like “how to conduct an internal audit” or “how to take corrective action” are the returns you have made on your procedure writing investment. Having up-to-date procedures helps to guarantee your customers receive consistently high-quality results.
True, you have to make investments in time and money to develop, implement, and maintain procedures, but you are investing in consistency, communicating best practices, and distributing lessons learned you have discovered over time. The fact that you have to research, write, review, and approve procedures can appear expensive and time consuming if you only look at the costs.
But what does it cost you NOT to have procedures? Effective internal procedures are what help you gain and keep customers. Without the high quality and consistency that procedures help ensure, you risk losing your hard-earned reputation — and your hard-won customers. It’s much easier to keep a satisfied customer than it is to obtain a new one and it’s infinitely easier to keep them than it is to win them back once you’ve disappointed them. Look at procedure as an investment in maintaining your business.
“Besides”, many companies insist, “our people know what they have to do. They don’t need procedures once they have the proper experience ‘under their belts’.” But how did your employees get that knowledge in the first place? Were they given in-depth training? Was the training consistent? Are they able to build on that knowledge?
Besides, business circumstances change. Technology changes. Customers’ needs change over time. Regulations are added all the time — some don’t affect you but others have a great impact on your business. Are you accounting for these types of change when documenting processes procedures?
In short, managing policies and procedures will cost you something but not maintaining them will cost your company a great deal more. You run the risk of falling behind your competition, falling to the back end of the technology curve, or falling out of compliance if you’re not looking at your procedures as “living documents”. If you’re not continually looking to improve the way you do things, you run the risk of stunting your company’s growth.
To sum up, you really should develop, implement, and maintain business procedures because it’s just plain good business and not just because somebody’s making you.
What do you think? Can an organization’s growth be held back because of poor or nonexistent procedures?
If you find your company is having trouble developing effective, meaningful procedures, check out our full line of business policies and procedures. They’ll make your policies-and-procedures journey easier to start and make it easier for you to stay on the right path.