Last year, one of my regular columns in The Globe & Mail was titled Three reasons to ignore your company’s policy manual and in it, I made the case for being flexible in the application of company rules and policies. Which might lead one to think that I’m against policy and procedure manuals. But regular readers of the blog will know that I’m not; in fact, I happen to think that procedure manuals are definitely worth the effort, particularly when it comes to training employees, or dealing with crisis situations. The best way for me to explain this apparent contradiction is to use the metaphor of an old-fashioned combination lock. If you know the correct numbers and the right sequence for a specific combination lock, then you can be guaranteed that the lock will open. Sure, you may get a little confused, or your hands may shake while you’re spinning the dial, but if the numbers and sequence are accurate, and despite the fact that you may need several tries, the ultimate outcome is that the lock will open.
Think about your procedure manual as the established record of the required numbers and sequence in a combination lock. When needed, employees can gain access to this information, and even if they are inexperienced or unnerved, they can still deal with the situation; they can still open the lock to get the outcome they desire.
Sure, I am guilty of mocking procedure manuals and checklists (mainly when they are used as a crutch to absolve managers from making good decisions), but I also say that there IS value in job handbooks and process guides, particularly during training or times of crisis. It is when people are uncertain or things start to go wrong that the manuals and checklists are sought out. It’s when the unknown or unexpected happens that people turn to the security of what has been documented in writing. So today … I say policy and procedure manuals are a good thing!
Well, what do you think? Policy manuals – boon or curse?