Whenever someone in my office did something wrong, they would always say, “but you didn’t tell me to do it that way.” I became so tired of hearing that as an excuse, I set out to do something about it. I realized that the problem stemmed from me not giving proper instruction. Fortunately, there is a simple solution to this problem. I embarked on my journey to create an office manual.
So much of what we do in the office is repetitive. We perform largely the same tasks for different clients over and over again. No matter what the practice area, you can develop procedures to address most staff responsibilities. Rather than rely on institutional knowledge (whether yours or another staff member’s) to direct how things should be done, write them down. By documenting how your staff should go about their jobs, your office will be more efficient.
Holding employees accountable
When you have an office manual, everyone knows what is expected of them. An additional benefit of knowing what is expected is the ability to hold people accountable. If someone does not follow the office protocol, it is easy to reprimand them. If an employee does not do things the way you want them done, it is time to look for a new employee.
An office manual also prevents employees from going rogue and doing things the way they feel they should be done. Mind you, I encourage employees to come up with suggestions on how the office can run more smoothly. If they have an idea which would make them more efficient or enjoy their job more, I am open to discussing it. If it is a good idea, it goes into the office manual. But there is a reason you do things a certain way and it is right to expect your employees to follow your direction.
Rome wasn’t built in a day
The idea of developing an office manual is daunting. I avoided it for a long time. The impetus for my beginning a manual was hiring a new receptionist. I was unhappy with my prior receptionist and I wanted the new receptionist to do things the way I expected. This forced me to contemplate, “what exactly do I want my receptionist to do and say?” I realized that the receptionist’s job was very repetitive and lent itself to creating a protocol.
I had never had a “script” for the receptionist in the past. Each receptionist developed her own way of answering the phone and screening and directing calls. Some things I liked, others I did not. I knew I had to train the new receptionist, so I decided to write out exactly what I wanted her to say. You know what? It was much faster and easier than I expected. Now I have a script which I expect my receptionist to follow. I have directions for (virtually) every type of call we receive. The receptionist now knows what calls go to which people in the office. For example, a new case from a referring attorney goes directly to me. New workers’ compensation cases go to Edwin Reyes. Beginning with the receptionist, creating an office procedure for calls is a good place to start.
From there, I began observing how other office employees went about their jobs. Let’s face it. Most of what we do is repetitive, that is, we do the same types of tasks for most of our clients. Whether it is filing a bankruptcy, doing a closing or reducing liens on a personal injury case, each task can be described as to how you want it completed. No matter the size of your staff, you can develop a procedure for how you want things done.
I did not sit down and write an office manual in one sitting. When I came upon a task, I simply wrote up how I wanted that task to be performed. I added to the manual periodically and after two weeks or so, I had almost everything we do written down. As you know, my practice is personal injury, workers’ comp and disability. I developed policies on everything from opening and routing mail to how I wanted discovery completed to what to do when the insurance company sends a client for an IME. Take a few minutes and write out how you want tasks accomplished as they come up. It is easier than you think. Just imagine you were explaining the task to a new employee, but write it down. It does not need to be written with bullet points or detailed flow charts, just a description of what you want done. Sometimes I add a few sentences as to why I want it done a certain way for emphasis. Don’t assume that your staff comprehends the reasons why we do certain things the way we do.
An evolving process
When I started to circulate the first few entries from the office manual, several staff members commented, “I didn’t know you wanted it done that way.” I was surprised that what I expected and what the staff were doing were not always concordant. But since implementing an office manual, there has been no misunderstanding.
I constantly add to our office manual. When something new comes up, or if someone does not do something the way that I want, I make an entry into the manual. You will see that soon you will have 90% of what you do on a daily basis covered in the manual. If you create a new procedure, show it to the staff member(s) so they are aware of your expectations.
The next step
Having created a manual covering most of what we do, I have started to cover other policies for the office. I have never had a written dress code, but people seem to abide by certain unwritten rules. I have now created an actual written dress code so there is no misunderstanding on how I expect people to dress. I have also written down my policy on internet usage, social media and personal e-mails on the office e-mail accounts. Now, there is no mistaking that Facebook is forbidden during work hours. If someone uses Facebook, they will know that it is against my written office policy. There is no room for misunderstanding. Once you begin the process of creating written office procedures, your office will function more efficiently.