Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to commit to writing a job procedures manual for your employees. But now if you find yourself staring at a blank Google Doc with nothing but a flashing cursor wondering where to begin, you’ve in the right corner of the internet. When you’re setting out to create procedures for your small business, the best place to start is with developing an effective structure for your procedures document.
Before you write the first step in any procedure, there is some very important information to include at the beginning that will make your procedure more effective and useful. This information can be divided into several categories that can become standard elements of each procedure that you write for your small business.
In This Post You'll Learn:
Since this post is more of a tutorial it may make things more concrete to walk through an example along with the explanations. So for our example let’s say that we are writing a procedure for how to process patient co-pays made by check for front office staff in a medical office.
I know it’s pretty specific, but your procedures should be on a really specific task. And because I'm working with a client that owns a medical practice on this very project so it's at the front of my mind. Either way, having a real example in mind will make it easier to understand the concepts we're about to learn. I'll refer to this example throughout the post.
Now that we have our anchor example in place, let's get on to what should be in the structure of every job procedure document. We'll cover seven key elements.
1. The Procedure Title
Obviously, your procedure needs a title. A title is the first thing that employees will look for and read when searching for a procedure.
A good title will accomplish a few basic things.
One: It will be descriptive enough to let the employee know what the procedure is about.
Two: It will be brief so that it can be easily read and understood in a few seconds. ( Like two or three seconds)
Three: It should use words that employees would use to find the information contained in the procedure. This is especially true if your procedure manual is online and searchable.
These key factors will create an effective title for procedure. You don't have to get creative. Technical writing is less about creativity and more about functionality.
So to apply these concepts to our example, a possible procedure title would be:
"Processing a patient co-payment made by check."
This title works because it's simple, straightforward and clearly describes the information that can be found within the procedure. It also includes words that an employee would use to find this type of information.
2. The Overview
The overview gives the employee a general idea of when the heck they would use that particular procedure. It gives them an idea of what task the procedure gives instructions on completing. Especially it is helping them to quickly determine if the procedure will guide them through the task they are trying to complete.
The overview answers the questions:
The overview is brief. It should be two or three lines at the most. Remember, employees will skim this section to determine if this procedure applies to they are trying to do. If you’re using an online manual, like a Wiki, OneNote or Evernote, that is searchable also incorporate words that employees would use to find this information. Doing so will make your content more searchable and will be found more quickly.
Let’s go back to our example so we can really see how this may look in real life. So in the example. The overview may be something this:
"This procedure will direct front office staff on how to accept payments made by check for office visit co-pays received from patients."
Right off the bat the employee knows that this procedure is for check payments. If they are trying to accept a cash or credit card payment, it is clear that is not the procedure to use. They also know that this procedure is for taking payments for co-payments. It can be assumed that if a patient is making a payment for a medical device or other out of pocket expense then another procedure is probably applicable and should be referenced. You get the idea. Word the overview statement so that the employee immediately knows when to use that particular procedure.
3. A List of What Is Needed to Complete the Task
Telling an employee what they need to perform a task before they get started eliminates all kinds of frustration. Think of this section as the ingredients section in a recipe. You can have all the most nicely laid out steps in the universe but if I start making this cake that needs six eggs and I have zero eggs in the fridge I’m not gonna be happy baker. So in this section list everything that the employee will need to successfully complete the task. This list should include:
For our example, the employee may need access to their patient management system to view account records and update payment information, they may need a printer to print receipts, or a check reader to get an authorization that the check is valid.
Make sense? All we’re doing here is noting all the things that an employee will need to have available to them order to finish the task.
4. The Jobs/Roles That The Procedure Directed
Employees performing different roles may perform different aspects of the same function. Adding a section "applies to" as a standard field on your procedures documents answers the following questions:
The front desk clerk may be responsible for writing the check number on the invoice, stapling the check to the invoice and passing the stack on the the office manager at the end of the day.
The accounts receivable clerk may then be responsible for retrieving that stack of payments, entering them on the general ledger and preparing a bank deposit.
The procedure means two different things, with different responsibilities to these employees. So logic would have it that we want to make sure that employees can easily identify if that procedure applies to their job function.
In this section ("applies to"), simply add a line that lists all job titles that should follow that procedure. Depending on the complexity of your business you may also want to include functional areas to further clarify to whom the procedure is intended.
"In our example we may say that the procedure applies to the functional area front office since this role supports the front office operations. The procedure would apply to front office clerks for the position."
5. Effective Dates
An effective date informs employees of when you want them to start following a procedure. It also lets an employee know when they will be held accountable for doing what's outlined in the procedure.
Perhaps you've created and issued a new procedure document in advance for employee training. You want to give employees time to be trained on the content and become familiar with the content before the procedure goes “live” in your business. The effective date is the date that employees should begin to follow the procedure in their daily jobs.
Alternatively some procedures also include a created date. This is simply the date that the procedure was written. Most commonly this date is included in the footnote of the document.
6. Revision Dates
As your business changes, how work needs to be done will also change. When these changes happen the procedure will also be updated. While there are many methods of version control, and thankfully technology has made this much easier, the simplest way is include a revision date on the procedure document. The employee can refer to this date to determine which procedure is most current and follow the procedure with the most recent date.
For example, if your employees maintain a binder on their desks with written procedures you may provide printed updates when a procedure changes. If they don't immediately discard the old procedure the revision date will help them know which is the new current procedure and which is the old procedure that they should toss.
Creating categories provides organization to your procedures and manuals. By creating categories employees can find what they are looking for more easily. Think about when you shop online. If you're looking for throw pillows you might click the category link “home” then “decor”. It's much easier and efficient than looking at every single item that the retailer has for sell. Imagine if you actually had to do that? Well, without categories that's what your employees will have to do to find the procedure they need.
Just like shopping online, you may have a main category, and subcategories to drill down further. In our example procedure, the category and sub categories may look something like this:
These categories are also a wonderful base for an index. Indexes are great for organization and ease of information retrieval for both online and hard copy printed manuals. Categories are definitely something that you want to give thorough consideration and take some time to map out overall the types of procedures your will develop.
It's essentially writing and outline for your knowledge management resources so think big picture and long term, not just where your business is today.
Including these seven structural elements int the formatting of procedure documents is the the ideal start to writing effective procedures. You may also find the post, Why You Need a Job Procedure Manuals and How to Create Them helpful as you begin the process of documenting your job functions.
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