Lesson Learned: Have Current Procedures Documented
Originally published: 05.01.12 by Terry Tanker
Have you heard the one about the administrative assistant who worked for the HVACR company for 30 years and then retired? She had a modest salary but was well respected, especially by the owner of the company, who always joked that he couldn’t do anything
without her. Boy was he right.
The morning after her retirement party, the boss sat down to get his email and was greeted with a blank screen with one blank line. He didn’t know what to do. So, as he had done so often in the past, he called his now-retired assistant.
She said, “I will come in and help you, but it’s going to cost you $50,000.” He was shocked, but he agreed to pay her because he knew he had proposals for 10 times that amount that he had to respond to. She came in, sat down, and typed his dog’s name into the blank line. The boss’ inbox instantly opened and updated. Outraged, he yelled, “I agreed to pay you $50,000 to type my dog’s name!” To which she responded, “No. You paid me $50,000 to type your password, which you’ve never asked me for before.”
I’m sure most, if not all, of you can relate to this story because someone fills the role of “most valuable employee” (MVE) within your company. I’ve worked at only two types of companies: very large, more than 1,200 employees; and very small, less than 15. And in both instances, it was easy to pick out the MVEs.
Large companies have advantages for obvious reasons, and two of the major ones are that they have singularly dedicated teams of people working in concert to accomplish corporate goals; and, they have some redundancy built in to back those teams up. Smaller companies have teams, but they are different, and frequently one person performs many duties within the team with no backup. To help illustrate my point: In the large company I worked for, we had a CFO and about 40 accountants, while at HVACR Business, we have one bookkeeper.
It’s widely acknowledged in our company that Barb Kerr, Executive Assistant (official title), bookkeeper, sales support administrator, director of operations, proof reader, travel agent, etc., etc., is our MVE. This became painfully obvious two months ago. Barb called me late one Sunday afternoon at home, which was — unusual. My immediate thought was, Now you’ve done it. You’ve pushed her too far, and she’s quitting. I quickly realized it had to be something else because I haven’t yet purchased that BMW I promised her when we started this magazine six years ago. And then I realized the lotto drawing the evening before was over $600 million. Could she have won?
Neither. She began to tell me that while standing in her driveway making plans for a cookout, a neighbor’s 18-monthold, 150-pound Rottweiler plowed into her, breaking her knee. She would be out a week until the swelling went down and doctors could decide whether a leg cast would be sufficient, or if surgery would be needed to repair the damage.
I didn’t panic. After all, I knew we had a policies-andprocedures manual that outlines all of the key activities associated with our operation. (In 2007, I heard a speech by Frank Abignale, the famous thief-turned-security-consultant of Catch Me If You Can fame. He subsequently wrote some articles for us, and I became somewhat obsessive about documenting all of the key aspects of our business operation.)
As I pulled out the P&P manual, I turned to the banking section because Mondays are typically our biggest banking day. Unfortunately the last update in the banking section was October 2009. Since then, we’d changed banks to take advantage of some of the latest automation available to small businesses. Hum…. looks like I dropped the ball here, I thought.
Next, I turned to the “Production Section,” which outlines all of the steps that need to be taken after Art Director Megan LaSalla, and Editor Tonya Vinas finalize the issue each month — meaning all of the magazine pages are in .pdf file format and ready to go to the printer.
However, there are literally a dozen steps before, during, and after we go on press; and then there is the bindery, and the United States Postal Service. The last update — July 2011. Oh, I hope nothing has changed . . .
As many of you know, we blast out our eNewsletter the last Tuesday of each month. I turned to the eMedia section of the manual. The last update was in January of 2012. We were in good shape. I knew the following day I could simply follow the instructions to ensure “Ahead of the Curve” would be emailed.
Our P&P manual has dozens of sections. It was designed so that key aspects of every employee’s job responsibilities would be outlined so that in the event of a disaster, departure, vacation, or illness — someone could simply read the manual, follow directions, and fill the hole until a permanent solution is implemented.
What I’ve learned through Barb’s unfortunate mishap is that good intentions don’t count for much — attention to detail does. The P&P manual was my idea, and it is my responsibility to update it to ensure our company doesn’t experience what could have been some very stressful and unproductive weeks before Barb returned. Moving forward, I’ve allotted myself two months to make sure the manual has all of the proper updates. Largely this will be accomplished with the help of our entire staff during our weekly production meetings.
If it has been more than six months since you’ve updated your P&P manual — or if you don’t have one — don’t wait for an unexpected event to nudge you into taking action. Learn from my lesson, so you don’t find yourself stuck when your MVE is not available.
Articles by Terry Tanker
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