In the first article of the What’s In Your Manual? series, I reviewed the importance that your manuals convey your company meets the governance, legislation, and/or requirements of the Federal government. Now, it is time to address key elements that make any manual in your office a user-friendly document. There is a lot to building an effective manual.
Always follow a logical outline. When you are putting together any manual, the first step is to create a clear outline of what you want the manual to convey to the reader/user. It is crucial that your manual has a logical sequence of how you conduct your business and your expectations of them.
For example, in a policy and procedures manual, there is important office information that should be organized in one section of the manual, such as storage of documentation, equipment use, key storage, etc; then another part will contain property management procedures such as an application procedures, the move in process, tenant funds, etc. Make it easy for the reader/user to follow the process.
If you have existing manuals, it may be time to review them to see if you can see a logical outline or purpose to the document. If not, you may want to revise them or start anew. The outline is a process that takes a lot of thought and work; later you don’t want to have to reinvent the manual, only update it when necessary.
Make the document clear for the reader. This statement includes using a good font, good grammar, readable text, professional language, and more. If the user has a difficult time understanding the text and material within, it will promote lack of use or understanding of your document. Carefully consider the target audience for the manual you are creating and what their level of reading or understanding will be.
For example, if you are creating a vendor manual, you need to create a sound business document that addresses their issues as well as details what you expect from them.
The manuals should always reference other documents. Never think of a manual (or any other document for that matter) as an unconnected document. Always think of these tools as interactive with other documents in your business. This will help the reader/user to “connect the dots” on what you expect them to understand or do. For example, in a Policy and Procedures Manual, create understanding of the move-in procedure by referencing the documents used for this process. Using the same “brand identity” throughout interactive documents enhances professionalism and understanding.
Always create a table of contents and numbered pages. Most manuals are large documents; some can number more than a hundred pages, so pages numbers are critical. A table of contents tool picks up the headings, styles, and page numbers of your manual. Today’s word processing programs make this an easy task to accomplish.
A table of contents has several uses. Generally, the key one is the ability for all users to “find” the important information they need and reviewing the table of contents will help them see the “outline” of what they are reading.
Use footers and copyright to document the date and copyright of your manuals. When writing a manual, you should insert a copyright symbol with your company name plus the date it was created by using a “footer” in your document; again this is easy to create with today’s technology. Remember, a manual is not a static document; to be effective, it will need to be updated, which means change. When you make changes, insert a “revised” date in the footer. This can reduce liability, particularly if a legal problem requires you to prove when you made a change to a policy. Here is an example of what to place in a footer:
©LandlordSource/2005 – this was when the document was created
©LandlordSource/2005/rev 08/2012 – now it reflects an update made August of 2012
Make an electronic file folder for past copies of your manual. Before you make changes to your manual, copy the existing manual into the file folder, make your changes to the original, and put in your revised date. The “past copy” file folder is proof of when changes were made to your manuals.
Avoid personal references. It is important that manuals “survive” the passage of various personnel. People come and go in business. Avoid use of personal names and “titles or positions” in your manuals.
For example, in the Policy and Procedures Manual, use “property manager” instead of referencing the current manager, John Jones. This helps to avoid unnecessary revisions if John Jones moves on and Mary becomes the new property manager. This is not meant to depersonalize your business. Remember the policy and procedures manual is not created for John or Mary, it built around the position.
Avoid too much detail. It is important to remember that most manuals are guidelines of your policies and procedures. If you list every single detail that happens in the office, it becomes an “operations manual.” This document now can become an enormous and unwieldy document. You don’t want to revise your manual daily or weekly so that it is accurate and useful. It will discourage reading and this will make them useless.
For example: your bookkeeping department needs step-by-step instructions; these steps change often and quickly. Create an operating manual just for the bookkeeping department but do not include this complete detail in your Policy and Procedures Manual where it does not apply to everyone; only make necessary references.
Think of a manual as a “road map” for the user. They take time, work, organization, updates, and the elements in this article; manuals are well worth this effort when they improve the operation and success of your business. They show the reader/user how to find the information they need.
Remember, if you do not have a manual yet LandlordSource can help. You do not have to reinvent the wheel; you only have to customize the LandlordSource manuals to your business.
Next month “What’s in Your Manual, part 3” will cover how to use your manuals effectively and will feature a free form to use with your personnel.
Jean Storms, MPM® is the founder/author of LandlordSource and has been a NARPM® member since January 1993.
Disclaimer: LandlordSource does not represent the article content in this website as legal advice. It is shared information only and up to the reader to use this information responsibly, seeking legal advice as necessary to their business.