HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsHR Talk: Importance of procedure manuals

HR Talk: Importance of procedure manuals

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One of the worst scenarios of office problems involves a very important job that cannot be completed by the support staff because of a lack of information on procedures.

Nearly every organisation prepares job descriptions, but most neglect efficient, exact and up-to-date procedures manuals.

A job description entails the specific duties that an employee undertakes while a procedures manual gives a detailed and informative guide as to how the job is done and enables someone to do the job in an emergency.

In an office, people should be able to pitch in and get the job done. This can be made possible only if they are provided with proper instructions and materials.

Every job entails a certain sequence of paperwork, routine tasks and contacts. For example, someone might be in charge of the recruitment aspect of the organisation.

A job description may outline the aspects involved in the identification and hiring of a person required for a particular post.

On the other hand, a procedures manual would give the actual steps that one has to take from the start of the process until the person sits on his/her desk.

If the person in charge of the recruitment portfolio is out of the office, someone else can open the procedures manual and follow the directions to do the job.

The key factor in a procedures manual is detail and the best format is a step-by-step one which includes requirement for the job, requesting department, forms to be used, policy requirements and, if approvals are involved, a chain of command chart.

If there are forms involved in completing a job, copies of these forms and how they are filled out should be included in the manual and labelled.

The person preparing the manual should presume that someone with little or no knowledge of the task to be accomplished is going to use it. In other words, it “walks” the person through the particular job to be done.

Managers should see that every support staff employee in his or her department prepares a procedures manual for each job.

At the beginning, the manager should meet with each employee individually and discuss the preparation of the manual so that its function is fully understood.

An outline of what is expected should be prepared and given to each employee to follow.

One important part of the manual is making sure that it is up to date.

Outdated information will only confuse someone and will not get the job done.

Employees should be instructed to check the procedures manual they have prepared at least once a month to see if there are areas that need updating.

Both the employee and manager should have copies that are accessible to others.

One of the problems in every office involves employees who are reluctant to, or refuse to, share information because they feel it will diminish their importance.

Keeping the job “complicated” and being the only one able to do it gives this type of person a sense of job security and self-esteem. They do not want someone else to do their job at all.

Unfortunately, this type of thinking does much more harm than good.

A good manager must be able to communicate to these employees that a procedures manual is vital and must closely monitor the employee to see that a manual is prepared and is viable.

Employee resistance to the idea of doing a procedures manual is to be expected.

Some people will be afraid that their writing skills are inadequate and they will be unable to do their part properly.

These employees should be helped as much as possible and encouraged to do the best they can. Their contributions can be polished later on.

Usually, resistance is greatest among those who know they have more time on their hands than the job entails.

These people will usually denigrate the whole idea of writing down what they do in detail, knowing that keeping details vague makes the job sound a lot busier than it really is.

Some tasks can take 10 to 15 minutes if you know exactly what to do. People do get sick, quit or leave for a variety of reasons — often quite suddenly.

A procedures manual is not a panacea for all office management problems, but it certainly helps.

A procedures manual also allows a manager to see what people are doing and estimate how long certain duties take.

What is vaguely written in a job description as “prepare the job advertisement” could take from half a day to a day depending on what is involved.

A procedures manual would indicate the exact steps to be undertaken in the process of preparing the job advertisement.

Obviously, there is a big difference in the amount of time expended, depending on what steps are involved.

Detailing the steps involved would enable anyone to take care of the job without confusion and problems.

Another advantage of the procedures manual is that a manager can see whether or not an employee is suited to a certain position.

If the employee seems to go about tasks in the most complicated, difficult manner, obviously retraining is necessary or the employee should not be in the job.

A manager should be able to see, by the steps outlined in the manual, whether the job is being done as efficiently as possible.

A procedures manual can help avoid confusion when someone has to step in and do a task that is not normally part of his or her job.

This enables the office to run much more smoothly and gives managers a “feel” for what is going on in their departments.

It also enables the manager to feel more confident about being in charge because he or she knows precisely what is going on in the department.

Most employees will welcome the manual when they are called upon to fill in or help out because they will at least have some idea of what is to be done and how to do it.

A procedures manual is therefore a simple office tool that can save a lot of time and avoid a lot of problems.

Paul Nyausaru is a training and development practitioner. He can be contacted on email pnyausaru@yahoo.co.uk, pnyausaru@gmail.com. Views contained in this article are personal.

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