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Process documentation is, at least in theory, incredibly useful for organizational efficiency. It can save new hires — and HR — time on training, keep teams strategically aligned, and make sure workers stay on task. With the advent of Google Docs, shared drives, and other technology, process docs have even become living documents. They can be updated in real time, so they stay current and relevant to the job at hand.

But having the docs available and getting employees to actually use them are two entirely different things. And while it’s easier than ever to update process docs, it’s not so simple to ensure this happens on a regular basis. Before you throw up your hands, know that it is possible to make your process docs dependable, accurate sources of institutional knowledge. Here’s how to get started cleaning them up and transforming them into truly useful — and used — tools.

1. Have Them Professionally Written and Organized

One of the reasons your team might be abandoning your process docs is that they’re disorganized, confusing, or unclearly worded. It’s easier for employees to try to MacGyver their way through a task than to translate 20 pages of poorly punctuated jargon. What’s worse, if training or process docs are especially unclear, they can lead to costly or dangerous errors.

Even if the writing itself is OK, your docs still might be a mess in other ways. Maybe there’s no way for employees to search within a document to find the information they need in the moment. Perhaps you’re storing your process docs in too many places or with names that make them challenging to find. You might have issues with version control, making it too hard to tell which doc is the most current.

Or it could be that your documentation system is just too difficult to keep updated. You may lack the manpower, time, or other resources to make the needed changes. As a result, your team has come to avoid relying on these docs because they know they’ll just find archaic information. Even if you did update them, they would likely be ignored.

All of the above are good reasons to hire a content firm specializing in technical writing services and finally get all your documentation in order. These professionals can help you with everything from ensuring the quality of writing to organizing the docs and translating them to other languages. They can even help you migrate your content to a platform that’s much, much easier to keep updated.

2. Incorporate Them Into the Onboarding Process

Another reason employees don’t rely on the documentation that’s provided for them is they don’t know it’s there. Or they know it exists, but they’ve watched their colleagues skip over it and find other ways of doing things. It’s hard to change a company culture where everyone is used to asking for verbal instructions or DIY-ing every task.

You can try updating documents, sending out emails and Slack messages, calling meetings, or offering new trainings to encourage change. But more than likely, many of your team members will stick to the way they’ve gotten used to doing things. Plus, you run the risk of breeding resentment within your team if you try to force it.

To get your employees into the habit of using your process docs from the start, make them part of the onboarding process. Every new employee who walks through your doors can start with some process doc reading assignments. You don’t have to hand them every single file on the company shared drive. But you can get them accustomed to following written procedures from the get-go.

Incorporating process docs into the onboarding process is also an excellent way to iteratively improve them and clean up errors. As new hires follow them, all sorts of questions are bound to come up as they learn. These can be opportunities to add more clarity or fill in missing pieces, making the docs ever more useful.

3. Use Project Management Software to Keep Team Members On Task

Project management software is another way to seamlessly incorporate process documentation into your team’s workflow. It can assist teams with making sure tasks are always done according to procedure. This software can also make it easier for many employees to find the docs they need, when they need them.

Most project management platforms allow you to link to relevant documentation within each separate task in the system. Instead of having to open up a drive or sift through files, the doc is tied to the individual task. Many such platforms, like ClickUp and Asana, even make it possible to include multiple docs with each assignment.

Project management software can also be a way of ensuring that docs are used correctly. Within the software, you can organize employees’ tasks in order, all according to procedure. Then, by keeping tabs on tasks as employees perform them, you can check whether they’re actually following procedure.

The collaborative nature of project management software can also encourage adherence to process documentation. The open structure of many of these programs allows team members to see some of their co-workers’ assignments and workflows. When employees can see that their colleagues are completing tasks by the book, they’ll feel compelled to do the same.

Make It Fun

Perhaps one of the simplest ways to make your process documentation more useful is to make it fun. That doesn’t mean dressing it up with emojis or adding unnecessary jokes. But a little bit of clever language can go a long way toward engaging and hooking readers. Little psychological tricks, like adding checkboxes, give workers dopamine hits that can keep them motivated to stick to the script.

Lisa Frank

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