Procedures – or Not?

When I started my first “real” job at a California bank I was shown volumes of procedures manuals. Once, when I didn’t know what do next, I called someone at head office and was icily informed “It’s in the manual.” Then I switched jobs to different bank, one that prided itself on being small, regional and customer focused. I asked where the procedures manuals were and was informed that they needed problem solvers not rule followers.

In my subsequent career, mostly in education finance, I found a significant percentage of my time was spent writing procedures. I don’t find this counter to customer service. Most of these procedures have to do with internal processes (required by accounting rules, statute, or policy) that must be followed consistently regardless of who is doing the work.

When information about how to do something is locked inside one expert’s head the following can occur.

  • An insecure knowledge expert can hold others hostage
  • The smooth functioning of the team can fall apart when the knowledge expert leaves
  • Knowledge experts who verbally pass on their processes are playing the classic game of “Telephone”. Every time information is passed on something is lost in translation.
  • Supervisors find they are re-teaching and monitoring to ensure the process is being carried out as designed.
image source: ana.net.au

image source: ana.net.au

Better to have a clear guideline to follow. After initial training, the new employee has something to fall back on when they get stuck.

Here’s the question that no-one seems to ask. Is it better to give a new employee only verbal instructions about how to do their job, or would something written down also be of use? In both cases they are being told how to do it. In what way does writing it down cause a problem?

Some say that it stifles creativity or process improvement or customer service.

No. It does not. First learn to walk, Grasshopper, then show me a better way to do it.

What impedes progress is the mindset that “This process is inefficient, but, hey, it is what I’m told to do. They don’t pay me to think. I don’t get the big bucks like my supervisor.”

Don’t hire that person. And if you do, let them go. Hiring the wrong person drags down your organization, not well-constructed training and guidance.

One comment on “Procedures – or Not?

  1. Bernadine
    March 9, 2015 at 8:21 pm #

    Great discussion. I am definitely in the “write it down” camp. As long as you create an environment where procedures can be updated and improved upon as needed, I see no downside to having a consistent record of how things are done.

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