Expert Panel

Focus on these things to succeed in Small Business Owner

Structuring expectations is important for businesses large and small.


By Gina Fedeli, President GCF Consulting, Inc.

Small firms usually avoid defining formal procedures. They worry about becoming too rigid, and think attracting and retaining innovative staff will suffer, resulting in business challenges. The opposite is true.


There are legal and financial risks when departments like HR and procurement lack guidelines. However, all departments can benefit from clear procedures for repeat activities. Since employees wear many hats in growing companies, carefully honed processes increase their productivity and reduce anxieties around these tasks. When employees are given a stable framework that clarifies what everyone is accountable for and how activities should be handled, they will no longer be frustrated by a seemingly endless list of responsibilities. Even the most unstructured individuals will be relieved to know that simple tasks can be accomplished in a predictable manner, freeing them to be inventive where it counts.


The key is to design processes that are straightforward and flexible enough to accommodate evolving company cultures and changing business needs.


Defining the Process


Process documentation is the blueprint for efficiently accomplishing a task.  It should include: 

  • An explanation of what’s to be accomplished and the purpose. Employees will be more receptive to new processes if they understand the significance of the assignment.
  • “Owners” of specific tasks and their dependencies on others.
  • Step-by-step instructions for handling the task.
  • Frequency– should the process occur on a regular, scheduled basis or is it triggered by a specific event?
  • Detailed quality specifications.
  • Estimated completion time.


One of our client’s considered implementing a telecommuting policy. We advised them to define offsite processes to help employees understand the tools and work approaches the company expected from them. Before finalized documentation, they had to ask themselves the following:


  • Who is eligible/capable of getting work done offsite? Client-facing or Operational employees may be more crucial to have onsite.
  • What tools will be used to facilitate meetings, chat and document sharing.  Skype? Google Docs? iChat?  Note that is it not enough to decide on the tool. Often, you’ll need to develop step-by-step instructions and use guidelines for tools.
  • Are there hours that all employees must be accessible?  The client needed to consider time zone differences.
  • Should local employees be available on certain days for in-person meetings? How will remotely located staff participate? 
  • Will employees use personal or company-owned cell phones and computers? If employees use their own devices, will they be reimbursed for service or hardware?


Making the Process Efficient and Flexible


Processes should be simple and time-conserving, without sacrificing quality.  They should also be adaptable enough to satisfy changing business conditions.  For example, a young firm might develop a policy that employees must “use or lose” vacation days within the calendar year.  But what happens if your business surges and, in order to meet client deadlines, employees begin spending more time at the office?  An employer might consider working with individuals to establish a one-time extension of the use deadline —a flexible approach that rewards loyalty and benefits everyone.


Conveying the Process


Some individuals absorb information better through written explanations, while others prefer diagrams, so use both methods when detailing a new process. The objective is to make your directions simple to understand. If you find that you require more than a single page for each approach, you’re probably combining several processes, so consider splitting the document into several page-long descriptions.  As shown above with the client who adopted a telecommuting policy, a single decision can require several processes in order to effectively communicate how individuals should perform their jobs.


Whether you business is large or small, it’s well worth the effort to make processes clear. Removing ambiguity reduces stress for employees and headaches for management. It also makes the organization much more effective.   


Are you challenged by implementing procedures in your small business?  Please join the conversation in 'This Week's Discussion'.


Written by Gina Fedeli,
Project Management Expert for ManagingAmericans.com & President, GCG Consulting, Inc.


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