"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. 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, just like any book in a bookstore, it needs to be written in a way that speaks to the audience. Even if you don't have complete control over the Policy and Procedure manual (in many organizations HR has final say over this document), there are a few things you can do to "ease the pain" for your team:

  1. Give them the “Why” – The most important thing is conveying the purpose of a policy or procedure. Is it accuracy, is it to ensure that the customer is satisfied, is it to increase sales, cut down on losses, anything at all that gives the benefit of following the 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. In many cases this doesn't need to be more than a sentence long.
  2. 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. It's a "fool's errand" to try to address everything as it is. Anybody who has a teenager knows that they excel at finding loopholes in your rules. Imagine how much better adults must be. 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.
  3. 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.

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