An easy-to-use guide for businesses of all types that will enable you to streamline your processes and better prepare your employees.
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk on LinkedIn and other business forums about the importance for businesses to document their processes — and that’s a really good thing. (I’m not just biased because I’ve been saying this for a long time.)
The step many of these LinkedIn posts skip is explaining how to actually do it. It’s great to see business leaders realize why writing clear instructions is important, but how do you actually document the processes that run your business? In other words, what’s the process for documenting processes?
Why documenting the right way is so crucial to your business
When it comes to documenting processes, my framework is simple: Do it. Document it. Delegate it.
Meaning, once you have a process you’ve been doing consistently for a while, and it’s producing results that you want to see repeated, it’s ready to be documented. That way, you can delegate this work to someone else, and before you know it, you’ll have a ready reference for how your company does things, which will make you more efficient and productive overall.
Poor performance comes down to one of two things: bad instructions and lack of experience. There’s not much you can do for new hires about lack of experience, other than give it to them. But you can give them good instructions, which is basically what documenting processes is at its core.
That’s why it’s crucial to have processes laid out simply, both to ensure proper performance and to make sure tasks are accomplished efficiently.
So, how do you document a process?
Got a process that you’re ready to document? Then check out my perfect SOP — your step-by-step guide to documenting your process for the first time:
1. Give your process a name.
Seems obvious, but this is a crucial first step. When you name your process, people get an idea of what this set of instructions is for. It also makes for quick reference once you have a collection of processes that run your business — in other words, someone can search “How to write an all-hands meeting recap” in your process library and get exactly what they’re looking for.
2. Name an owner.
I’m not talking about the person reading the instructions or performing the process. The owner is the person who developed the procedure or oversees its execution. For instance, if your executive assistant is in charge of meeting recaps, name them as the owner of the process for writing them. That way, whoever is reading knows exactly whom to go to with questions.
3. List the date the process was last updated.
This ensures that your process gets refreshed with new information from time to time. It also helps keep process owners accountable for making improvements to the process on a regular basis. A process that was updated last week is going to seem a lot more legit than one that hasn’t been touched in two years.
4. Give your employees all the tools they’ll need to complete the process.
If there’s a login and password they need to access your different software programs, provide that. If there’s a specific template they need to use, put it in this section too. Also, add any websites, URLs, and hardware or software the procedure references — your documented process should be a one-stop shop that your team can reference for anything they need.
5. Document how often this process needs to be done.
If you only require a meeting recap every quarter, list it here. If you hold an all-hands meeting every week, list that here too. This information will help you set deadlines and ensure that the business doesn’t suffer from missed tasks or lost information.
6. Note how long a process should take.
If you don’t tell someone how long a task should take, they’ll do it at their own pace. And this doesn’t just mean taking too long — sometimes people rush through processes and skip critical steps. A simple sentence like “Once you get the hang of this, the meeting recap should take about 30 minutes” will provide a useful guideline for people to strive for. Obviously, there will be a learning curve, but a good set of parameters will always be useful to the person doing the process.
7. Provide context.
Now, before getting on to the main event — the actual instructions — give your team some context as to why this process is important. You might have some steps in the process they think are unnecessary or don’t understand. Explaining why the process has to be done exactly the way you’ve laid out gets everyone on the same page.
8. Document the steps.
And finally, the main event: documenting the step-by-step procedure that shows your team exactly how to do this specific task. You can either write this out or record it on video — for overachievers out there, consider both (that way, you can accommodate different learning styles).
Make everything as clear and simple as you can. That means using simple language, avoiding any jargon or technical terms people might not understand, and proactively thinking of any questions people might have. Your goal here is for anyone with the requisite knowledge to perform the process correctly without asking any questions.
I’m a fan of listing steps numerically, and including only one action per step. So, for our meeting recap example, here’s what a sample set of instructions could look like:
1. When the all-hands meeting finishes, open Slack.
2. In the text box, start the recap with this format: “[Date] All-Hands Recap.”
3. Provide a short summary (one sentence, max) for every main topic from the meeting. These can include:
- Company announcements
- Department announcements
- New hires, promotions, and team changes
- Upcoming events
- Reminders for action items (feedback, event invites, etc.)
4. Provide links for the all-hands meeting deck and recording.
5. Send to the #team channel within an hour of the meeting’s end.
You get the idea. Make these instructions so simple that an 8-year-old could follow them — that way, you’ve got a good chance of everyone getting it right.
Here’s a bonus tip
Show your team an example of what the finished product should look like if everything is done right. This provides a model they can look at, and if their work doesn’t match, they know they probably did something wrong along the way. You can easily store these examples — along with their processes — in your internal systems, servers, or really anywhere that makes it convenient for your team to reference.
In the long run, documenting your processes will save you hours of time correcting poor performance and ultimately improve employee retention. Remember, giving good instructions is your responsibility as a business leader, and if you can master that, you’re halfway to making sure everyone on your team is doing their jobs the way you want them to.