Investing in Policies and Procedures
Policies and Procedures. They go hand in hand, yet they are not the same. Policies are the rules. Take accounting for example: Revenue is recognized upon delivery of goods, expense receipts required over $25, straight-line method to depreciate fixed assets, etc. Procedures, on the other hand, tell you how to do things: How to…bill customers, process expense reports, record that piece of equipment in the system to start depreciation. A procedures manual should be detailed—more detailed than policies but a few degrees above desktop procedures. Most importantly, it should describe how processes work. Policies and Procedures documentation suffer a bad rap because it is a lot of work in particular to get the “procedures” part down. And what happens after it’s finished? Very often, on the shelf it goes to gather dust (and show the auditors).
Is it smart to invest time and resources to document good policies and procedures if all they do is sit on the shelf for a year? The value of documented procedures is to make sure that institutional knowledge rests in the institution, and not just in people’s heads. Especially without cross training or employees who regularly back each other up, a good procedures document will prevent a mini meltdown when a key person in your group leaves. So, even if these documents aren’t very active, I think the value there is compelling. BUT, the good news is that you can use them for other things too. Here is one idea on how a good procedures document can help you: Find opportunities to automate. Look in the procedures documentation to see how much paper is in the process. More Paper = More Manual. Automation is the key to keeping cost down while maintaining quality, especially for activities that are highly repeatable. Automation doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. ACH and direct deposit instead of cutting checks, a custom code or macro to combine five manual commands, scanning and emailing instead of inter-office mailings back and forth—these are all cheap and easy to implement.
The Back Office Mechanics Blog by Nancy Wu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.