When you mention manuals, whether that’s policy, procedures, workplace safety, operations – eyes often glaze. And yet manuals are a business’ best friend – they are critical to the smooth-running, growth and profitability of a company. They are vitally important information conduits and deserve the sort of attention you would give to budgeting and cash flow.
Manuals shouldn’t be thousands of words with the occasional bold heading. They need to be engaging. Use diagrams, photos, highlighted blocks to summarise important points. If they are digital manuals (and they should be where possible), then use technology to embed videos or QR codes that take the reader to more in-depth information; have links to external documents; additional research, detailed processes etc. Make them succinct but meaty.
Keep your manuals current – they need reviewing regularly. Make it the responsibility of someone in your organisation to update them as soon as there is a change of process, legislation or procedures.
Keep your manuals relevant. They need to be reviewed by experts in all the area that your manuals cover. No point in having a well written, engaging manual if it doesn’t reflect the position on the ground and doesn’t talk to the people who need it.
Make your manuals accessible. Having your manual in digital format on an intranet allows you to track who has read or downloaded a manual. Some instances will require hard copies, but make sure as soon as you do an update to your digital version, all old, printed copies are destroyed and replaced with the latest version.
Manual writing is a real skill, but if you don’t want to engage the services of an expert, here are a few tips as to how to write and what to include in a procedure.
- What to do: the overarching task
- Why do it: what is the purpose or intended outcome, who benefits, legislative obligation, and so on.
- When to do it: ad-hoc, periodically – weekly, fortnightly, etc.
- How to do it: the process, the steps, the tools, etc. This should include any supporting documents, such as screen shots (of processes), videos, images, checklists, forms, reference guides, etc.
Give manuals the attention they deserve: make them clear, engaging, interactive and accessible, and they will reward you with a team that is educated, process driven and has confidence in their ability to find an answer to any situation.