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Procedures & Small Business: Part 7

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Does a Small Business Owner/Operator Need Written Procedures?

Does this sound familiar?
Picture an Owner-Operator type of small business where the boss (owner) supervises and micro-manages every task.

If the boss is used to making every decision on-the-fly (i.e. control freak), what happens when the business 1) begins to hire additional workers, and/or 2) expands work activities to the point where guiding everyone’s activities becomes impossible? It happens in businesses from food service to industrial contracting, and the solutions are basically the same – the boss has to communicate to the employees what to do and how to do it.

Many tasks are considered basic to a job position and are usually left to the worker to complete on their own. However, if a basic task is to be performed with a specific material, for example, the worker may need to follow a specific sequence of actions to complete the task successfully.

Yes – the dreaded procedure may need to be written.

Is there an owner-operator out there who willingly wants to get into writing work procedures? Some may have started their business to get away from that kind of stuff!

But when it has to be done, the result is often a book of policies, procedures, work instructions and rules stored on a shelf somewhere, because it is generally not useful to either workers or managers. The problem is often based in the structure of developing the procedures.

To write effective procedures, you need to remember the task is to communicate intent, expectation and instruction clearly and precisely. Statements must not create doubt in the reader. A great way to avoid this problem is to include personnel currently performing a task when writing, reviewing and revising the new procedure.

As an aside, my experience with obtaining an ISO 9001 certification at an older, operating manufacturing facility saw the production and maintenance departments add numerous warnings and safety steps to well established work procedures and instructions originally written by in-house engineers. The ISO process exposed the gap in knowledge between the engineers who wrote the technical procedure and the personnel exposed to the actual hazards of performing the physical task. As it turned out, adding these steps caused short-term pain as established personnel were coached in adopting the new procedures. But this was quickly replaced by acceptance as we saw improvements in safety, production rates and maintenance overtime hours. In short, improved procedures reduced mistakes.

Like many administrative services, a small business can outsource its procedure writing. A poorly designed and functioning company website will not bring in customers, so an owner wanting a great, professional-looking website will probably have one built by a developer. In the same way, professionally written procedures could be the best way to go, as it shows both employees and potential clients a commitment to things like workplace safety, product quality, client satisfaction and customer confidence.

In this way, a small businesses without the need for ISO certification can still base their procedures and work instructions on the ISO development model, with the goal of being ISO-compliant rather than meeting every requirement of an ISO certification.

Kevin Fox is a technical writer at Contendo. He is a power engineer with a background in process operations, steel fabrication and military.