The ART of Business Operations: Rules, Tools and Glue

    April 17, 2002

Ok, so you’re growing the business but have you paid attention to its infrastructure and the extent to which it can support this growth? In today’s technically dependent work environment attention must be paid to the tools and glue that binds and keeps a business operation functioning efficiently while preventing it from falling apart under the pressure of expansion.

Personal computers have become to the office of today, what hand calculators were thirty years ago, you’ve got to have them. They are the tools for today’s highly efficient operation, permitting team members to organize, communicate, manipulate and produce a number of products efficiently to support the business.

The downside of office PCs is they are not stand-alone units but rather must be integrated into the flow of business operations. Who does what and when is essential for getting the most out of those software applications loaded onto each employee’s desktop. Without adequate documentation that defines whose responsibility it is to run invoices and when, your cash flow could quickly subside and you wouldn’t know it until the bank calls! Of course, if you’re watching the register balance each day you’ll know your balance. But then, who is marketing and producing? A topic best reserved for another day.

But the glue, the substance that keeps it running efficiently, in the event of “growing your business” are policies and procedures. Policies and procedures serve as the binding material to keep a business running and in particular as the business experiences growth, keeps the business literally “glued together.”

Policies and procedures provide three essential duties in a growing small business environment and these duties collapse into a convenient acronym to remember, ART.

1. Accountability: Whose job duty is it to complete critical tasks and when will those tasks be completed?
2. Reference: Serve as reference for the “how to’s” of business operations.
3. Training: Provides training and orientation for new employees, saves owner/manager time explaining repeatedly “how to.”

I believe employees should be held accountable for well-defined duties that are priority to business operations. As owner/manager, your responsibility is to define those duties and when tasks are expected to be completed. I mean, you’re the boss! So, you should expect employees to be accountable for doing that which is expected and the best way to ensure there is no confusion is to have those duties defined in writing. Which is not to say small businesses do not attract great employees. They do and in today’s work environment have become more loyal than those employees in large corporations. But, employees still need direction and leadership. Your role as manager/owner is to ensure leadership is in place.

Policy and procedures serve as a critical reference tool for both new employees and veterans. It also prevents veterans from making rules up to accommodate the way they like tasks done. It keeps control in the hands of owner/manager rather than senior employees.

I once had a senior level manager in a 45-employee operation that reported to me but also had been employed by this organization for fifteen years when I arrived on the scene. It seemed like a day would not go by in which she would quote a rule that I never heard of before. This served as the incentive to write a policy and procedure manual. In the process I adopted this rule “if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t count!” It took a few years, but her adamant quotes became meek mumblings and to this day, can’t recall the last utterance.

The point, once in place written procedures serve as a reminder to all that “OurCompany.Com” operates in this manner, until the team has studied, deliberated and recorded productive changes.

Unless your workforce is of the loyal nature, your turnover probably drives you nuts and all the more reason to have written procedures in place. The last thing a small business wants to do is to leave its critical operations up to new employees to define. Yet it is done every day.

New employees need direction, training and reference to new job duties. Whether you provide that orientation yourself or delegate to a trusted employee, written procedures ensure all entities work from the same page. This helps by reducing the orientation period for new employees and also serves as a training tool for either yourself or the trusted employee. If those critical procedures are written down…there is no guesswork to “How we do things here.” Those instructions are transmitted consistently and as the management team intended.

Written policies and procedures, integrated with personal computers become basic tools in a small businesses infrastructure and permit an expanding operation to take off, with structure. If your business plan is to double or triple your business, you’ve taken the time to ensure it is financially feasible, you’ve defined a clear mission and you know your marketing works which will support the expansion. But don’t forget the glue! It’s what will effectively bind the operation as it expands while simultaneously keeping it from collapsing once it arrives.

Tom Russo shows small business owners/managers how to get the most out of software investments. Discover the ART of business operations and related topics on technology & business management.