An ever present problem is how can you make your policies and procedures work? Customers and readers alike tell us how difficult it can be to keep their policies and procedures up to date. Due to the ever-increasing rate of change, your policies and procedures can get “stale” (ineffective) very fast.
One reason for this might be that your procedures are too long. If you have 35-page-long procedures — especially if that’s all text — it’s probably not fair to expect your employees to understand, let alone use, them. At that length, there’s the very real risk that your procedures are unclear, overly complicated, and just plain boring.
Another reason procedures may not be up to date is that they’re not followed. If your people were using the procedures as written and taught, they’d be more likely to notice when things are out of date or out of sync with other company practices. Revisions are a healthy indicator of ongoing use and revisions help to create effective procedures.
Perhaps your people can’t find your procedures, or possibly they’re unaware that you have a procedure for this or that activity. Maybe because it’s not right in front of them1, they’re assuming you don’t have a formal procedure. Nonexistent or uncontrolled procedures imply that your quality management system is out of control.
There’s also the possibility that your procedures are too simple; that is, they’re too broad and general to suit a specific situation. If your procedures aren’t directly to the point and don’t offer information specific to the process your employees are working on, they won’t be used.
Poorly written procedures are as bad as generic procedures. If your procedures are incorrect or confusing, your employees will not use them, either.
Sometimes, procedures are not designed for ease of use. Either they’re hard to navigate in themselves, or their formats are inconsistent. Formats that are inconsistent across departments and work areas are a frequent source of confusion.
It helps to think about who procedures are written for when designing your procedures. Procedures are primarily designed to be training aids: Frequent, experienced users don’t need procedures often, if at all. They should periodically review procedures to be sure they’re current but on a day-by-day basis, they’re not your target.
Occasional users need reminding, but it’s novice users who need procedures the most. They’ll need the guidance of a procedure until the process has become ingrained.
How to Make Your Policies and Procedures Work for You
To understand how to make your procedures work for your employees, you need to pay careful attention to the following:
- Develop a system that keeps your procedures current using intranets, social media constructs (blogs, wikis, etc.), document management systems, software, or new knowledge management systems.
- Keep your procedures concise, clear, and to the point — no tangents or extraneous material.
- Use pictures, graphics, and examples to illustrate objectives.
- Make your procedures available where they’re needed most.
- Develop a system with easy access (see point #1, above), make them searchable online, or make them part of the job (see #4).
- Revision control is required for ISO and must be part of the job (see #1 & 4).
- Eliminate generic procedures entirely.
- Keep procedures updated and useful (also see #1 & 4).
- Create and maintain a common, easy-to-navigate format for your documents.
- Instill the discipline to follow procedures in your organization by making the process “owners” part of the procedure development.
Now that you know the secret to writing effective (i.e., useful) policies and procedures, what are you waiting for?
1ISO 9001, for one, requires that you have documents available at the point of use.