Every industry in the world seems to have operating manuals and S.O.Ps (standard operating procedures). Personally, I come from the corporate hotel world . Having worked in properties such as Loews Coronado Bay Resort and Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, we were surrounded by operating manuals and standard procedures - it was a sure fire way to back up our training and communication techniques as well as providing a permanent resource to answer any questions our staff might ever have.
Even as a small business owner I have now developed and use my own operations manual.
It was a JOY therefore to read this article written by Doug Emerson of Profitable Horseman and I just had to share it with you..
I love the phrase Doug uses when he says "An operations manual is the basic support for a system to allow work to flow like water on a clear path"... Oh so true!
Avoiding Ooops with Ops Manuals
It's spring and in my part of the world and that means an abundance of water. Melted from ice and snow and delivered by relentless rains, water is everywhere. Motionless water is standing in low pastures, puddled in driveway potholes and trapped in my leaky rubber boots.
There is water in motion as well: trickling, flowing or roaring toward larger bodies of water. Nature sees to it that water stays in motion without instructions. It goes wherever gravity chooses to send it. Natural flow for water is easy to see and understand; it's downhill and usually along an obvious, well carved path.
Ideally, the work in your business should have natural flow to it just like running water, resistance free along a clear path. But in many businesses, work flows like ketchup from a bottle. Following inverted shaking, taps and slaps, the ketchup bottle temporarily spurts and drips an appeasing amount, very similar to the way some employees respond to the boss's instructions.
Workers (assistants, volunteers, family) often have difficulty maintaining work flow because the path, that is what to do next and how to do it, is unknown. They're trapped like water in a low spot in a field, waiting for a drainage ditch for guidance.
Sure, you've told them, more than once, in different ways when and how to do things. But, most likely the instructions you gave were in your own concise language. You see the problem with your concise language is that it's too concise, lacking details and only presented in one way and in your style.
Consider your assignment of the task: sweep the barn. You have the mental image of a swept barn and it's done according to your standard.
The recipient of the order is now faced with many decisions:
Where is it?
Where to start?
Sweepings into stalls or into a shovel or out the door?
Sweep the feed and tack rooms, too?
How much sweeping, rough, medium or squeaky clean?
Sweep behind trunks and under mats?
Catch cobwebs too?
What about horses cross-tied in the aisle in my way?
Where does the broom get stored when done?
The process of sweeping, simple at first glance, is filled with decisions. The other work tasks in your business require decisions too: Feeding hay, turnout groups, when to blanket, how often to check water buckets and scrub, greeting customers, cleaning tack, taking messages, fueling the tractor, filing receipts, loading the trailer for the show and so on.
Unclear expectations about work and how to do it by the owner, guarantee inconsistent performance in job completion by the employee.
Well defined expectations in the form of an operations manual for your business will help communicate the order in which to do work and the steps necessary to complete it.
WAIT, before you stop reading, an operations manual doesn't have to be difficult to produce!
Be easy on yourself and your employees, construct the manual one part at a time. Start with feeding, or stall cleaning or cleaning tack. Begin with a notepad and take notes on the process and what's important. Use your digital camera to take photos of what a clean stall looks like, the right level of bedding to maintain in the stall and the image of a rack full of clean bridles with sparkling bits.
The photos will save hours of writing and explain certain parts of operations more easily than words. Draw on the photos if that helps explain. Don't go to extreme details at first.
Describing eleven ways to operate a rake in the barnyard may be overkill. Add detail, or better yet, have your employees add detail as they analyze the process.
Operations manuals are often associated only with large corporations like McDonalds, Starbucks or Wal*Mart.
Small businesses have less room for error than large corporations; lean with employee numbers by economic necessity, there are no extra people in small businesses to pick up the slack for low productivity.
An operations manual is the basic support for a system to allow work to flow like water on a clear path. Your development of systems for your business will help:
minimize conflicts between employees
create consistency in quality of work done
speed the completion of work
reduce training time for new hires
minimize worry while you're out of town