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Policies and Procedures: When Do I Need Them and Where Do I Start?

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Policies and Procedures: When Do I Need Them and Where Do I Start?

The need for policies generally arises as you involve others in your enterprise, but the process of developing policies should begin on the day you decide to start a business.

Policies and procedures are there to make sure everyone is on the same page. They provide clear working guidelines and expectations, which in turn communicate a degree of certainty to those involved in your organisation. They avoid confusion and save time by establishing the ‘way-things-are-done’, and do away with the need to re-invent the wheel every time a common task is undertaken.

Good policies and procedures set out to provide a consistent approach to every aspect of your business. Although many policies operate in a legal framework, they must also be consistent with the values of your organisation. For that reason, policies start to form as the early concepts of your enterprise are drafted.

The principles on which you build your business should be reflected in every aspect of the organisation. When the business consists of yourself, your partner and perhaps a part-timer, it’s not difficult to convey those values, but as your payroll grows and more faces turn up to work, the need for written policies and procedures becomes essential.

Where do I start?

  • Before you draft your first policy, you should already have clear goals, standards and values that guide the day-to-day operations of your business. Having them front and centre as you prepare formal policies will help you convey those important elements to your staff.
  • Maintaining a safe workplace is a legal requirement, so it’s a logical place to begin. Consider polices that address Occupational Health and Safety, evacuation procedures, anti-discrimination, harassment & anti-bullying policies, drugs & alcohol, non-smoking and critical incidents.
  • Address policies that are central to your area of work. Not all businesses work with children, but if you do, a Child Protection policy is a must. A policy addressing the use of personal information is an issue for all businesses, but a legal office would be expected to have a more detailed policy than a mechanic, for example.
  • Another group of policies are those that secure your income. They are generally client based and designed to ensure everyone in your organisation knows how to deliver a positive business experience to your customers. These might include policies addressing confidentiality, complaints, communication, enquiries, sales, returns and file management.
  • Everyone likes to know what’s expected of them, and that includes your staff. Policies that explain how and when they go about requesting leave, reporting a grievance or anything else that addresses personnel issues will provide certainty. This is also the time to convey expectations regarding computer use, social media access, personal calls, presentation and a code of conduct. Having these policies in place before staff are recruited means you can use them as part of your induction process to make sure everyone starts off on the right foot.
  • Time management is another reason policies and procedures are important. These documents address common tasks that require a uniformed approach. They could explain how to order from suppliers, how and when to follow up on unpaid invoices, the various steps in file management, or appropriate methods of internal communication.

Working through these categories will help you develop the most essential policies and bring others to mind as you progress. Don’t be afraid to consult staff and involve them in the process, particularly when they’re the ones implementing the procedures. An established method of rolling out any new practice is to involve staff in its development and encourage ownership.

A final point to remember is that policies and procedures are not carved in stone. Best practice is to review them regularly and update or improve them as laws or the needs of your business change.

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