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5 Ways to Develop Better Procedures and Practices

5 Ways to Develop Better Procedures and Practices

While I deal with many clients who have little if any documented processes, policies and procedures, simply writing detailed documents isn’t the answer.

Having them will definitely improve results, improve consistency, enable training and cross-training, make it easier for someone to fill in for an absence, provide a means of explaining / defending your approach to many controversial or unpopular policies and more.

But, if they are long and difficult to follow, they won’t achieve these results, they will only absorb your time and take up space, whether on your company’s server or on a shelf.

I remember when I first joined the corporate world almost 20 years ago. As a new manager, I was treated to valuable training that I think has been the victim of economic hardships in most companies. One of those training sessions included a talk from an Executive VP. There were 9 levels within this organization and he was second from the top.

At the time, the company had a huge number of what were called ‘General Circulars’ or GC’s to guide everyone in just about everything. This was a time (yes, 20 years ago) when competition and market pressures was changing the business. He basically said to ignore much of the detail, consider the intent and use our judgment when applying them. It seems they were too constrictive and dampening entrepreneurship and creative thinking.

Constantly looking for better ways to do things, I was referred to a great book that I just finished reading titled “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande. It’s subtitled ‘how to get things right’

I’ve always been an advocate for keeping things short and simple so they are useable, but this book is pushing me towards even more simplicity. Many people think more is better. A long procedure document is better. A long business case is better. A long strategic plan is better. Unfortunately, in many cases, its more for show than for results. It falls into the category that ‘more is better’ and the heavier it is, the more value it has.

In the book, Mr. Gawande talks about the value of a simple checklist. His argument is compelling, with very clear examples where a simple checklist gets results even for seasoned specialists who supposedly know what to do in every situation. Of course the most compelling comparison is for Pilots, who rely on checklists for every contingency even though they receive a great deal of training.

Mr. Gawande discusses examples of using a simple checklist in the operating room and reducing infections and other medical errors by significant margins. Considering the impact on people’s lives, it’s stunning and shows that even the most highly trained and skilled professionals can benefit from a checklist.

After many tests and trials, he discovered that the simplest, most basic and easiest to use checklists had the most impact. Two pages of checklist items won’t do it.

Through my own experience, coupled with research and most recently ‘The Checklist Manifesto’, I’ve developed key principles for developing procedures and practices. They are:

1. Develop them with input from users – real-world experience beats theory every time. What you think is being done in the field is often not the case for very good logistical reasons. And if it’s being done wrong in the field, understanding why is the best way to change it in your practice.

2. Keep them short and simple – that doesn’t mean dumbing them down, it means making them easier to use by busy people with little time to read long documents.

3. Use a format that is logical, visually easy to follow and quickly provide the needed information – that means flow charts, tables, meaningful headings, etc. I use a concept called ‘Information Mapping’ to do this.

4. Include checklists – lessons from Mr. Gawande’s book prove that these are powerful ways to ensure everything that needs to be done is done. Paragraphs, narrative and other formats aren’t as effective.

5. Make them easy to access – If nobody sees them or if they aren’t easy to reference when they are needed, they won’t do any good. This means easy to find on your company server, logically grouped and easy to access. For paper copies, use a binder with tabs that have the common activities, processes, etc. listed. Check with the users to figure this out. Provide a quick reference with the most common issues and a summary with the overall process and references to each step that’s broken out into more detail.

About Michel Theriault

Michel is the founder of Success Fuel for Managers. He is an author, speaker and consultant focusing on topics relevant to Managers and aspiring Managers in businesses of all sizes who want to get results, get attention, and get ahead. He is also a contributor to Forbes and AllBusiness Experts . Michel is available for speaking engagements, training and consulting. Connect with him or send an email.

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