In Praise of Policies and Procedures Manuals

I am often surprised that small business owners don’t take the time to create policy manuals/handbooks. You know the adage an ounce of prevention… this is where not taking the time to define and disseminate policies and procedures can cause you real problems. I wrote about the importance of having a documented corporate travel policy previously. This time, I’m going to give you the nuts and bolts of policies and procedures manuals:

  • why you need them,
  • what they should include,
  • criteria for review,
  • how often they should be reviewed,
  • types of policies,
  • where to keep them and
  • how to get buy in from employees along the way.

Why should your business have policies and procedures manuals?

  1. They provide direction and guidance.
  2. They provide uniformity and that promotes understanding and more likelihood for compliance.
  3. Policies provide internal controls.
  4. They can be used for training– the more detailed the better.
  5. They provide some measure of legal protection/compliance by defining the rights and obligations of the employer and the employee. Notice I said “some measure”– check with your attorneys for policies that have formal regulations.

What should a policies and procedures manual include?

  1. The purpose— be specific on how it fits into your overall mission and business development goals
  2. The goals and objectives— these can be broad and if so, should include regularly scheduled evaluation dates.
  3. The expectations— are these in line with your company core values?
  4. Definitions if needed— each company and each industry have their own language. Put yourself in the place of a brand new person coming in. What would they need to understand?
  5. A place to acknowledge receipt of the information— a signature line for acknowledgement of receipt and review of the document.

Criteria for review of the policies and procedures manuals

Be sure to include SMART goals in the policies and procedures. It is important that policies and procedures be implementable. Research, adopt and adapt policies to your own company’s needs.

How often should you review your policies and procedures?

At least annually and especially after major projects or changes in operating systems. Make sure that any updates/changes are communicated with employees.

Types of policies and procedures to include:

The sky’s the limit and I say the more the better. Everyone should be on the same page and know what is expected. This is especially true if your staff is disbursed and if they are working on multiple projects. Each manual must have the purpose, the vision and the expectations related to the policy clearly stated.

Examples of policies and procedures to consider including:

  1. Human Resources
  2. Accounting
  3. All about Clients: Client acquisition. Client onboarding. Client exit interviews.
  4. Bonus policies
  5. Social media
  6. IT policies– who do you contact if there is an IT problem. This policy can outline the procedure for reporting the problem and stop-gap measures so that the employees can continue to work with minimal interruption.
  7. Cybersecurity– everyone should know how to spot spam emails that can lead to viruses. Some companies have policies that do not allow the use of USBs because of the potential of viruses. Your policy should also address the rules about ransomware and cyber theft.
  8. Vendor selection/payment procedures– do you have a supplier diversity policy?
  9. Community outreach— your employees have favorite organizations they support. Help them and get marketing as an added benefit
  10. Corporate Travel policy
  11. Reimbursement policy– list what can be submitted for reimbursement. List the timeframe for requesting reimbursements and how reimbursements are processed.
  12. Employee evaluations– when, how, who does the evaluations. What are they being evaluated on specifically? Don’t forget to include appeals processes.
  13. Confidentiality Agreements– are your employees able to access personal information of your clients? Anyone taking payments should sign Confidentiality Agreements.
  14. Weapons policy– what are your state laws?
  15. Conflicts of interest– are your employees related to vendors? Potential customers?
  16. Safety policies– should be both general and specific to the type of work being done.
  17. Employee exit interviews– how will these be conducted? Face to face? By questionnaire?
  18. Personal device use- do you want to reimburse employees for using their personal devices? Do you want to allow personal calls and texts during work hours?
  19. Company Equipment Use– the policy should be very clear that anything written or searched on company equipment is subject to review. Be very clear about the amount of privacy you allow.
  20. Dress Code
  21. Code of Conduct
  22. Internal Promotions policy
  23. Money management/credit card policy
  24. Intellectual property– This policy should address questions such as who owns what is developed for a client or during office hours or using company equipment. Does it belong to the employee or does it belong to the company?
  25. Industry policies specific to your business

Where should policies and procedures manuals be kept?

The best place to keep them is in a shared file online. That way they can be accessed by everyone. You may also choose to keep hard copies in a central location in the office.

How do you get buy-in from employees for your policies and procedures?

The best way to get buy in is to have your employees included in the drafting or review or updating of policy manuals. Ask employees to acknowledge receipt, review and understanding of the policies. They should sign and date the policies. Consider informing your employees that you have an open door policy for changes and suggestions. This will empower them to keep the policies and procedures relevant and implementable.

The good news about policy and procedures manuals is that there are many examples, free samples and outlines at your disposal (I’ve gathered a number of them on this Pinterest boardfor your reference). Your industry groups will also have examples you can use. So this means that you don’t have to hire someone to come in and create the policies if you can’t or don’t want to afford to do that now. That said, I caution you to reconsider that when you are growing: a solopreneur can operate one way, a company that has a handful of employees can operate another way.

The bigger your business the more formal your policies and procedures should be. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I am a big fan of policies and procedures: I believe that what gets written gets done. What gets agreed to gets done. Expectations are met when they are understood and embraced. And finally, inspect what you expect – just writing these policies and procedures down and putting the manuals up on a shelf isn’t going to cut it, use them as living documents and you’ll see your business blossom and grow as you and your team continue to improve how and why you do things.

Over to you, do you use policies and procedures manuals? Do you have best practices you can share?


G. Nancy Allen is an international speaker, coach, consultant and expert on women’s business issues. Nancy has over 30 years of experience helping small business owners at all stages of growth. As President and CEO of WBDC Florida/Her Company Incorporated, Nancy manages and leads an incredible team of staff, sponsors, partners and women business leaders who are dedicated to certifying, connecting and championing women in business. Nancy has been recognized for her work on behalf of women in business through numerous prestigious awards: -Nancy was recently honored by the International Career and Business Alliance (ICABA) as one of South Florida’s 100 most accomplished Caribbean Americans. She is especially proud of this award because it highlights her heritage as well as her professional accomplishments. -Nancy is the recipient of the World Women Leadership Achievement Award from the World Women Leadership Congress -Nancy is also the proud recipient of the Association Marketing Award from Women in ECommerce. -Most recently Nancy was named Honorary Ambassador of Cascais, Portugal by the Ambassador’s Club of the Industry Sector of Cascais and the Estoril Coast. Nancy’s personal motto is Connections, Creativity and Courage in all endeavors. She holds a Master’s Degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS, 1982). She was born in Haiti and raised in South Florida. Nancy is bi-lingual in English and French and is fluent in Spanish and Creole.