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Creating an Effective SOP Manual: Where to Start

How would your office run if you weren't there?
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Office Management

Creating an effective SOP manual: Where to start

By Patricia Robb

Several decades ago, I recall coming back from vacation and my boss telling me how happy he was that I was back. He said the office had been a disaster without me. I have to admit, I felt rather irreplaceable—and I probably wasn't the only administrative assistant who felt that way in those days. Knowing we were the only ones who knew how to run the office gave us a feeling of job security and value.

Of course, nowadays that would never work in an office, where the culture fosters teamwork, collaboration and sharing information with one another. We need to let our co-workers know what we're up to, and when we take vacation, or have to be away unexpectedly, someone else should be able to step in and cover for us. No, we are not irreplaceable, but we can be seen as indispensable by documenting what we do in a procedures manual. In today's office, that's what will get you noticed by your boss as exceptional.

When you're out of the office, it's nice to be missed. But it's nicer when things can run smoothly so you don't return to a pile of problems or unhandled business. Make it easier on everyone with Developing an Effective Administrative Procedures Manual.

Follow these tips to start creating an effective procedures manual:

1. Arrange your duties in a logical format in a table of contents to map out how you want to place each item. Once you have the table of contents completed, you can go back and fill in the details.

2. Document what the job requirements are and provide instructions on how to perform each task. For instance, if you are responsible for taking minutes for a senior management team, it's likely you also need to organize the meeting, draft the agenda, take the minutes and follow up on action items. These are the types of entries to include in your procedures manual.

Note: A procedures manual should not be confused with a new-hire orientation manual, although in smaller organizations they may combine the two. An orientation manual includes various company policies, information about the benefits plan, a floor plan of where everyone sits and information on the organization's staff. New hires will also be introduced around the office and shown where the lunch room and restrooms are. Typically, your human resources department will handle that part of it, and the IT department will set them up on their computers and provide them with instructions. But when new hires actually sit down at their desks, they need directions on how to do their particular jobs. That's where a procedures manual comes in.

A smoothly operating office is a sign of a prepared and polished professional who has the best interests of his or her co-workers and company at heart. Develop an administrative procedures binder that puts everyone on the same page.

3. Keep a master copy of the procedures manual in an electronic format since it's a living document and will need updating regularly as information changes. Also, an electronic version is useful since you're able to search it easily, although having a printed copy at your desk is handy to thumb through when you need it.

4. Have a quick reference manual in hard copy at your desk. This should include emergency contact numbers, information on vendors, catering companies, the landlord, the photocopier repair company, the alarm company, couriers, instructions and other information you need at your fingertips. Note: This would be the document you would take with you if you had to evacuate the building on short notice.

Otherwise, your larger, more detailed manual can be kept online, set with only you having administrator rights so someone can't accidentally delete it. If someone else needs access to it, they should have read-only rights.

Nowadays, the ability to have remote access from home or virtually anywhere in the world has made it much easier to rely on electronic documents. But in the event of a power failure, having a hard copy is the best backup.

5. Review and update your manual at least every six months, but ideally every three months. The more often you review it, the less work updating it will be and your manual will always be current—the only thing worse than not having a manual is having an out-of-date one. As you review your manual, it also helps reinforce your knowledge about your job duties.

With a procedures manual in hand, you and your organization will have the peace of mind of knowing that someone could step in and fulfill your responsibilities without causing a major disruption to your department or to business operations.

If you had to miss work for a week… two weeks… or even a month, could your co-workers or manager step in and fulfill your responsibilities, WITHOUT a major interruption to your office or business?

Are the processes and procedures that you do each day documented for easy reference? What if a natural disaster occurs? Are you prepared?

To help you develop an effective administrative procedures binder, we've teamed up with admin expert Julie Perrine in a new interactive webinar, Developing an Effective Administrative Procedures Manual.

Join us Friday, April 1, and you'll learn:
  • 5 simple steps to get you started creating Julie Perrineyour administrative procedures binder
  • The appropriate items to include in your administrative procedures binder
  • How to document understandable processes and procedures
  • How to maintain your administrative procedures binder in hard copy and electronic formats
  • And more!
Register for this interactive event now!
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