OK, the manual is “done.” Now what?
The manual will never be done. In a good company, one that is focused on continuous improvement, the work of refining the manuals is an ongoing and dynamic process. As new “opportunities”—a.k.a. mistakes—occur, the company responds by modifying a system and/or process so the likelihood of the opportunity occurring again is reduced. Taking the attitude that mistakes are opportunities for improvement makes for a more healthy work environment, too.
Manuals need to be written for every position in the company plus those entities the company works with. When my wife Nina and I ran our company manuals were created for the following:
Employee Manual: This set expectations for all the employees in the company regarding the company’s mission and core values, benefits, expectations regarding hours and so on.
Field Manual: Another name for this manual could have been the "Production Manual." This was a collection of expectations, processes, systems, and forms that a Lead Carpenter would reference.
Office Manual: The biggest manual of all. This was kept on our administrative assistant's desk and was referenced, modified, and added to almost every day.
Production Manager Manual: This manual had a lot of the same material as the Field Manual, with additional items for the use of the Production Manager only.
Designer Manual: Our Sales Department had a designer, an estimator, and a salesperson. The manuals for designer and estimator were complimentary, with each of them focusing more on the needs of the respective position they were written for.
Estimator Manual: See above.
Sales Manual: We never actually got around to writing this one. Why? I was the salesperson and an owner so I did not do the focused work I should have that was needed to create it! I am just being honest with you. If we were ever going to employ another salesperson we (including me!) would have created this manual. We actually did have a number of good processes and systems for sales, which I used, more often than not.
In addition to those in-house functions we had the following manuals:
Permit Manual: We worked in about 10 or so different towns/cities, each with its own permit application procedures and document requirements. This binder was where all that information was stored.
Trade Contractor/Vendor Manual: Much of what we did was subcontracted or purchased. We wanted to have the folks we were working with from outside the company understand what the promises were that we made to our remodeling clients, what the promises we made to our trade contractors and vendors, and what the promises were that we needed our trade contractors and vendors to make to us. As usual, we included all the forms that the trade contractors and vendors would need to use to be able to work with us.
Client Manual: This manual was developed after we recognized that we needed to do a better job of setting expectations with our clients during the handoff of their project from our sales department to our production department. Among other things, we talked about what defines an emergency and what the client should do if one occurs.
You must be wondering if all we ever did was create manuals! Far from it, as we were always focused on improving and documenting what we did so all who worked in the company and with us would feel more successful. In other words, it was just business as usual.
Once you've created a manual (or more than one) you have to use them and train to them; otherwise, all your work will be wasted. Here are two ways to do that:
Reference them: When someone asks a question about how something is done at your company don’t answer it. Have him find the answer in the appropriate manual, to the degree the situation allows. By always having your employees look in the manuals, they will get to know them better and will understand why the manuals are such powerful tools.
Train using them: This is a never-ending process. Break it into small pieces. For example: At your company meeting ask your folks questions about three or four pages in a manual that they were to read between the previous meeting and this current meeting. Make it low-key and fun. Anyone who answers a question gets a point. The leader of this activity keeps track of the points. At the holiday party whoever got the most points goes first during the gift grab.
I hope you have found this series useful. Remember, don’t be overwhelmed. Just get started! —Paul Winans, a veteran remodeler, now works as a facilitator for Remodelers Advantage, and as a consultant to remodeling business owners. firstname.lastname@example.org
Creating a Good Org Manual, part 1, the process
Creating a Good Org Manual, part 2, key accountabilities
Creating a Good Org Manual, part 3, building a binder