I don't think anyone really likes to read corporate policy manuals (aka, "Employee Manuals/Handbooks"). They're thick, they're boring, and usually written in such a way as to satisfy lawyers as opposed to the average Joe. As I advise young people, policy manuals are, unfortunately, a necessary evil and shouldn't be glossed over. Instead, they should be carefully studied as they contain the fundamental "do's and don'ts" of the business.
Even though MBA is a small company, we found it necessary to write our own policy manual years ago. Some people might think it's overkill for a small business to have such a manual, we didn't. Just like any large company, we found it important to keep everyone operating on the same wavelength. In our early stages, when we were particularly busy, we inevitably had employees who wanted to abuse the system when their manager was preoccupied, such as frequent tardiness, excessive reports of health problems (particularly on Friday afternoons), and improperly prepared expense accounts. From this we learned a policy manual is vital to control people who are inclined to break the rules, not for those who follow them. Consequently, we developed our own manual and had our corporate attorney review it for clarity. Following this, we had all employees study it and sign a statement they had read and understood it.
Since then, I have seen a lot of policy manuals in my travels through corporate America but very few in small businesses. Quite often, when I talk to small business owners, they see little value in such a manual. They fail to realize it will actually save them time if everyone understands the rules of the business and the owner will have to spend less time supervising people, and get on with their business. Further, I tell them they should think of it as an insurance policy to help prevent litigation with potentially disgruntled employees. Nonetheless, most like to throw the dice and take their chances. I consider this strange, particularly in these hard economic times where juries are awarding large awards to employees for such things as sexual harassment and discrimination issues.
Until such time as this country implements laws for "tort reform," (which may be never) I'm afraid such things as policy manuals are not just a luxury, they should be considered a prerequisite for running a business. Operating without one is foolishly reckless, plain and simple.
For more information on this subject, see my article, "Why we need Policy Manuals."
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Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at email@example.com
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