The key to writing strong procedures and policies is to make the documents rigid enough to document the rules of the organization, but flexible enough to be able to be followed easily, mostly without deviation as you must document every little veer off your designed path. You may hear procedures and policies referred to as SOPs, or Standard Operating Procedures, in a lot of organizations. These documents form the backbone for an organization, so writing them well will help keep the business on path and ensure that standard policies and procedures are being conducted the same way by all staff.
If you work within a regulated industry, like pharmaceutical or biotech companies, strong SOPs are absolutely critical to the success of your business as the Food and Drug Administration looks to these documents first in any audit.
Draft an Outline of Needed Policies and Procedures
Draft an outline of any procedures and policies your organization needs. Creating a brief outline of procedures and policies will help you organize your writing. Grouping the policy and procedures by department may help you organize your thoughts. Organize the outline with the most important documents at the beginning so you can prioritize the drafting of the SOPs.
After all, you have to start somewhere and starting with the most important means that at least these will be done. You might have to revisit these first documents after supporting SOPS are written. It is imperative that SOPS do not conflict with each other.
Break the Policies and Procedures into Tasks
Break the individual procedures and policies down into the separate tasks involved in completing each document. In your outline, add sub-tasks for each document so that the steps are clear, logical and in order. Make sure to add in only the broadest steps, though. If you write your SOPS too detailed, there's too much of a chance of having deviations.
Interview the Staff who Perform the Tasks
Interview the staff who perform the tasks. Don't overlook the valuable input from the employees currently doing the tasks. The SOPs should document how things are done and these are the folks in the know. Ask the workers rather the managers to do some authoring of draft documents, and their writing can always be strengthened by a technical writer.
Add More Detailed Procedures to the Outline
Fill in your outline with more detailed procedures for your staff to follow. It's best practice to keep it simple when writing policies and procedures. It's also widely accepted practice to write on the fifth grade U.S. level – this means that a fifth grader should be able to read and understand every word.
Determine Who Has Sign Off Authority
Decide on who will sign off on the procedures and policies. Sign off should hold some high level names so that the bosses are aware of how things are being done. Some organizations run every policy and procedure through the human resources department or their legal branch to ensure no laws are being broken.
Have a Meeting to Discuss the Policy
Call a review meeting to gather all signatories in one room to discuss the policy. If at all possible, getting all parties together in one room to have a discussion about one specific policy will move the document forward at a much more rapid pace than passing it around and asking for comments. If you really want to speed things up, set a goal of having the SOP signed off at the end of the meeting.
Circulate the Finalized Procedures and Policies
Sign, date, version control and circulate the finalized procedures and policies. Consider giving each employee an employee handbook that can be updated with the revised documents as needed. In fact, create a policy and procedure for handling of the notebooks, including auditing the employee handbooks periodically to ensure that all staff should be up to date.
Review the Procedures and Policies Periodically
Review the existing approved SOPs on a schedule. Every SOP should be reviewed either annually or, at a minimum, bi-annually to make certain the the practices and policies have not changed. Make sure to get fresh signatures and dates so that, if audited, there is a clear paper trail of back versions.
Standard procedures are often overlooked by small businesses, but they are vital in ensuring the health of the business.