We all know the importance of having good policies and procedures (P&P). They help create consistency, efficiency and good business practices among staff. They also provide a mechanism for disciplinary action when needed. But what makes for good policies and procedures?
These are the items that create and uphold our business practices. They tell the world what our intention is in regard to specific items. Policy is created from situations we have encountered that have had a negative outcome. We have learned from our mistakes.
Policies are intended to protect the owner, staff and customers, and the business’ reputation. Policy should be adhered to at all times. When everyone is playing by the same rules, it helps keep the business running smoothly.
But policy is not “law.” It needs to be reviewed periodically to determine if it is still viable as the business grows and changes. For example, even though “No Refunds” may be posted on the office wall, there are circumstances where you may need to bend the rules and offer refunds. It may be hardship, goodwill or in anticipation of additional future business. Sometimes it is just the right thing to do.
Some businesses get stuck on their policies to the detriment of the business. This is short sighted to say the least. Policies should be created with a bias toward the business, but with an understanding that in the right set of conditions it may be overridden.
When you understand the reason for the policy, you can be flexible enough to make better decisions about the business. The expectation is that staff and supervisors will use good judgment. Policy is there to protect and help, not hinder.
While these also create and uphold our business practices, procedures are the “how to” component of the P&P duo. When we need or want something done a certain way, the process needs to be spelled out.
Sometimes the policy outlines the procedure, and sometimes the procedure is the policy. More often they are intertwined. A policy that reads “no smoking on the property” really needs no further clarification nor should “clean the bathroom every day.” However, for a policy such as “first month free storage,” a procedure needs to be in place to make sure it is applied in accordance with your business requirements.
Writing policy is easier than procedure. Everyone has purchased a product with “some assembly required” only to find that the directions were really bad. You know that whoever wrote the procedure never used it. The same is true in business. What may seem very clear to the writer may be completely misinterpreted by the user.
Request feedback from the people using each procedure. Pick staff members and have them read the directions to make sure it is complete and correct. They will offer a different insight. Better yet, have someone who knows nothing about it review it. This way you will know the explanation makes sense to new employees.
The easiest procedures to follow are those that go full circle, including the who, what, where, when and why. Forms and letters are an easy way to outline P&P items. They should be written so readers know the required steps. Rental agreements and lien notices are good examples. While not everything requires legalese, it doesn’t hurt to write some directions on forms the staff uses internally.
If you require your tenants to provide notice of vacate, make something available that explains your expectations and the easiest way for them to comply. Spelling it out eliminates interpretation.
Terms and Definitions
Your terms should be clearly outlined and consistent throughout, and definitions provided as needed. We have all heard the joke about the computer user that couldn’t find the “any” key. It might sound like an insignificant thing, but how many times have you been frustrated because the instructions for the task at hand only confused you?
Staff should know always understand the reason for the policy and procedure. When employees know how to correctly explain why your facility uses lock stickers to a tenant, it helps provide credibility to the staff and business, and the tenant is usually appreciative. Plus, when your staff knows the intended outcome of a P&P, you will get better buy-in from them as well.
Train and Test
The worst kind of manual is the one on the back shelf that still looks new. It is useless if the staff doesn’t read it or know it. Schedule a P&P quiz every now and then. This will get them used to checking the book first for an answer before they call you. Additionally, you will have a chance to see where their weaknesses are and then train on those items.
Hold people accountable for operating your business your way. As the staff learns the business and you establish trust, you may consider giving them leeway on some items. This, of course, is after you are sure they know the business and your objectives well enough to use the correct judgment.
Making a Manual
Don’t reinvent the wheel. You can buy good starter manuals, some that are industry-specific such as those from self-storage property-management companies. No one size fits all. Manuals vary greatly in price, quantity and quality. Purchase one and tweak it to fit your business. Simple and concise goes a long way.
Don’t assume everything in the purchased manual will fit your business as is, or that because it is in the manual it is the way it has to be. Ask your attorney to review it to ensure it’s in compliance with labor, OSHA and other laws.
If you already have a manual but haven’t reviewed it recently, do so. If your staff is not following it, they should be. Policies and procedures will make your life and staffing issues easier, promoting consistency, efficiency and good business practices.
Linnea Appleby is president of PDQ Management Solutions Inc., based in Sarasota, Fla. The company provides full-service storage facility management, consulting, new facility startup services, auditing, management training and more. For more information, call 941.377.3151; visit www.pdqmanagementsolutions.com.