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Thinking about Popcorn, Processes, Procedures, and Policies

If you want people to do certain things in certain ways, write it down. Every time you add a process, procedure, or policy in your company, write it down and send it to everyone.

Some of us in this office would argue that popcorn should become one of the major food groups – please note, this applies only to the human members of the team. (Romeo, the little black dog, is not fond of popcorn.) However, nobody on our team decorates for the holidays with popcorn. We have all experienced the disintegration of popcorn if the needle is threaded through it incorrectly. Popcorn shattered into small bits is just a mess. We have had occasion this week to recall that the same is true of business processes, procedures, and policies.

It is common, especially in the first few months of existence, for small business owners to believe they do not need to plan and document their processes, procedures, and corporate policies. Most businesses launch with a small group of people who are both totally committed to the business and who have helped to create the corporate vision and mission. Everyone knows the firm’s values and procedures.

Because everyone is an insider, start-up and small businesses believe process mapping, procedural outlines, and corporate policy statements are easily deferred until a later date. In most cases, this is true. However, there are circumstances sufficient to cause any business owner to pull his or her hair out for the decision to postpone creation of these documents. Hiring someone new, having someone out sick, or working with a new provider or distribution channel are all good reasons for these documents to be on hand.

In just the last week, we witnessed the frustration, chaos, and disruption that can occur when processes, procedures, and policies begin to resemble disintegrated popcorn. It is very difficult to pick up all of the pieces and put everything back together again. In addition, someone typically ends up with hurt feelings.

Every business needs to document their processes, procedures, and policies. It doesn’t require that much time or a professional graphic artist (unless you happen to have one on staff). The quiet week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve might be a good time for you team to spend a few hours creating the documentation.

Here’s what you need:

1. Process maps – A process map simply lists every step one must take to complete a process, whether the process is sending out a press release or assembling a microchip. The most important element of the process map is to write down – in order – the details of each step from beginning to end of the process: what is required (parts, people), what you must do with it, in what order, and in what amount of time. Then indicate what happens when the specific process is complete. If you have someone who can make it pretty, great. Then post it in an obvious place and share copies with everyone who uses the process. Finally, put a copy of the map in a processes book that is available to everyone.

2. Procedural maps or outlines – A procedural map might look very much like a process map, except that it outlines the procedures standardized by your firm for doing certain things, responding to emergencies, or starting something new. Procedures should indicate who should take action, what action should be take (in proper order, if necessary), and what should result from that action. It should also specify what people should do if the desired results are not achieved.

3. Policies – Every company – no matter how new or how small – has written or unwritten policies. They might cover job qualifications, cause for dismissal, who may speak with the press, how purchasing is managed, how to handle customer interactions, returns and exchanges, etc. The nature of policies are determined by business type, products and/or services offered, promises made to customers, work styles, weapons in the workplace, and the sensitivity or confidentiality of the company’s dealings.

In short, if your company has a required, preferred, or prohibited way of doing something, write it down and share it. If you want people to do certain things in certain ways, write it down. Every time you add a process, procedure, or policy in your company, write it down and send it to everyone. If you don’t tell people, they have no way of knowing. If you put all processes, procedures, policies, corporate values, and vision in a book, and make that book available to everyone who works with or for you, you can be certain that everyone that needs to know has access to the information.

By taking the time to document all policies, procedures, and policies you can prevent an emergency, a crisis, or any change from turning your business into disintegrating popcorn. Trust us, popcorn is great as food, but probably not great as Christmas decorations. Documentation can save your business from becoming miss-strung popcorn – even temporarily.

Staff, Little Black Dog Social Media & More

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