We always start our Well-Defined Processes Class by asking the participants “what’s wrong with your policies and procedures where you work?” and we always get the same answers. Students come to the class from different industries, companies, and geographies and yet we still get the same answers every time. So what are the real reasons behind why people don’t follow procedures?

Why Are Procedures NOT Up-To-Date?

One reason why people don’t follow procedures is because they aren’t up-to-date. People tell us how hard it is to keep their procedures up-to-date. Information gets stale fast and it is difficult keeping procedures current and relevant without becoming outdated. One reason for this is that the procedures are too long in the first place. If you have a 35-page procedure then, yes, it is difficult to keep all 35 pages up-to-date. Especially, if the procedure is unclear, overly complicated or just too difficult to understand in the first place.

If your people were using the procedures then they would get updated with the latest information. An unused procedure is one that is not updated either. Revisions are an indicator of usage and revisions help to create effective procedures.

Why People Don't Follow ProceduresWhy People Don’t Follow Procedures

Perhaps your people can’t find your procedures. Maybe they don’t even know you have a procedure. And when they go to look for one, if they can’t find it on the server, where it is supposed to be, they figure you don’t have one. That means your configuration management is suspect. An uncontrolled procedure implies your system is out of control.

I have also seen procedures that were too simple or generic. If your procedures are not offering helpful information then your employees will not have a reason to use them. Poorly written procedures are just as bad as a procedure that is too generic. If your procedures are incorrect or wrong, of course people will not use them.

Sometimes procedures are just poorly designed, without a good format to navigate around. An inconsistent format that changes with every department can confuse your readers. It helps to think about who procedures are written for when designing your procedures. Procedures are training aids. So, frequent users don’t really need the procedure at all. Occasional users need a reminder of what needs to get done and novice users need a lot of description. Perhaps more than you can or will want to put into a procedure. In this case novices should use the work instruction.

Top Ten Reasons People Don’t Follow Procedures:

  1. Procedures are out of date.
  2. Procedures are too long and wordy.
  3. Procedures are unclear, complicated or difficult to understand.
  4. Procedures are not used or followed.
  5. Procedures are hard to find or locate.
  6. Procedures are uncontrolled or out of control.
  7. Procedures are too generic, general or simplistic.
  8. Procedures are incorrect, wrong or poorly written.
  9. Procedures are poorly designed or hard to navigate.
  10. Procedures are inconsistent using different formats.

How To Make Your Procedures Work For You

I couldn’t leave you with just the problem of why people don’t follow procedures. To understand how to make your procedures work you need to fix each of the problems.

  1. Develop a system that keeps your procedures current using intranets, social media constructs (blogs, wikis, SharePoint), software, or procedures management software designed for this purpose.
  2. Keep your procedures short and succinct so it is easier to update them.
  3. Use pictures, graphics, and examples to illuminate what you expect.
  4. Incorporate your procedures into the job at the point of use.
  5. Develop a system with easy access (see 1 above), make them searchable online, or make them part of the job (see 4 above).
  6. Revision control is required for ISO and must be part of the job (see 1 & 4 above).
  7. Eliminate generic procedures entirely and save paper.
  8. Keep procedures updated and useful and they won’t be wrong (see 1 & 4 above).
  9. Create a common format as part of your document control.
  10. Discipline the organization to follow your procedures. If they are part of the job then they are more likely to be followed (see 4 above).

Consider Your Communications Objectives

While capturing everything you learned while studying your process may help you, you don’t need to show that around. Think of your spaghetti diagram as homework, but think of your procedures as having a job to do. Your procedures are responsible for communicating know-how to someone who may have an alternate view of how a task should be done.

Think of your procedures as stories, with a beginning, middle, and end. After discerning your intent, we look in our library for something we have composed already that tells a similar story. But our procedure communicates flow, or how raw materials, information and labor come together to create value for customers. By organizing the story around flow, we can simplify your procedures, not to mention the underlying processes. Flow should be a theme in all your procedures.

When we review a client’s procedures, we compare them to stories (e.g. procedures) that we have already written. We simplify client procedures so that they communicate flow. And we add measure and balance information at transition points to keep the underlying processes running smoothly.

Procedures Should Help Work Flow

Think of work flow as the current in your favorite fishing or boating stream. When the stream moves at a “normal” pace, the water stays within its banks. However, if a larger-than-normal volume comes downstream, or if the normal volume encounters an obstacle (like a bunch of fallen trees), the stream rises. Soon, the stream has nowhere to go but out of its banks. What a mess.

To maintain work flow in your company, you need to know the measure and balance that should be maintained at each transition point in your process. For example, how much raw material should Receiving hand off to Production every hour? Every day? Such concrete measure and balance information determines the tempo of your processes. Workers need to know the appropriate tempo to prevent production managers from being inundated with material, and prevent inventory from backing up.

Procedures communicate flow. And other kinds of documents and communications tools have other jobs. Thinking about and achieving all the business communication jobs needed to roll out a process and keep it humming along is what we call “implementation?”.

After Developing Your Procedures, Tell the Story

When we review a client’s procedures, we compare them to procedures, or stories, that we’ve already written. We simplify client procedures so they communicate flow. And we add measure and balance information at transition points to keep the underlying processes running smoothly, at the appropriate tempo.

That may end up being a lot of information — more than you would want to write in text form as a procedure — so we deploy communication tools: process maps, job aids, visual work boards, training, videos, etc. These tools get the right information to the right people at the right time, so they can do their work at the right tempo and stay in sync. Deploying communications tools in this way is how we achieve implementation.

How Bizmanualz Estimates Your Policies and Procedures Project

When companies come to Bizmanualz with poorly written policies and procedures, we typically recommend reducing and simplifying what they have today. Typically, we can cut from 30% to 60% of their documentation load, reducing the cost and complexity which at the same time lessens employees’ objections. We can recommend an approach for your policies and procedures improvement project based on your answers to the following questions:

  • How many procedures do you have today within the scope of the improvement project?
  • Send us two or three sample procedures in MS WORD or PDF format. Let us know what format you want for the final procedures.
  • What industry are you in?
  • List the countries in which the procedures will be used. List each of the languages into which the procedures need to be translated (if any).
  • Who is the lead regulator for your industry in each of the countries where the procedures will be used? Provide a link to the regulator’s web site and on-line regulations if available. List any other regulators that are likely to review or audit your procedures.
  • Mention any quality standards that you are using or plan to use within 24 months.

Policies Procedures Budget Considerations

At smaller budget levels, we would typically recommend training for your in-house procedure-writers on how to write more effective procedures. The training is similar to our Well-Defined Processes training, but emphasizes authoring procedures. After the training, your in-house team rather than Bizmanualz would apply the principles and update your procedures. Depending on the experience level of your procedure-writing team, more than one training event may be required.

Larger projects may include procedure implementation of your procedures with your employees to make sure that they perceive value and use the procedures. This may include additional buy-in training for your in-house procedures team on how to build and maintain support for your policies and procedures project. You may need other communications tools such as job aids or videos that are not strictly considered procedures, but which nonetheless help workers apply the procedures consistently. Process procedures optimization may require implementing lean, ISO or quality systems.