productivity

Are You Documenting Your Procedures? Don’t Be Left Clueless When Employees Leave!

While we hope good employees stay at companies, move up as promoted and train their replacements to perfection, the reality of it is even if they give two weeks’ notice, that’s an incredibly short time to find a suitable replacement and spend any quality time training them. Or even worse are the employees who do not give any notice, leaving a vacant position and a company scrambling to cover the position until it can be re-filled. Or maybe it’s just that an employee is on vacation and another is covering while they’re out.

One way to ensure a smoother recovery is to cross-train employees so multiple people are trained to perform work functions. The good thing about this is that it allows for multiple people to be trained to fill in where needed, however if any of those people leave, you lose your backup.

Another method is to document all company processes. This serves multiple purposes:

  • It provides documentation of all the functions of the company so when positions are filled with new employees or if one leaves unexpectedly
  • It allows managers to evaluate the workload of employees to ensure workloads are evenly distributed according to ability
  • It gives the opportunity to evaluate current processes and make adjustments to increase efficiency
  • It ensures that employees are doing what is listed on their job description

Preparation

While documenting processes should be a vital function, keep in mind that employees may fear that by documenting their job functions, their employment is no longer secure. During initial implementation, it should be acknowledged immediately that the purpose of this is not to downsize, rather to create a more efficient workflow and have a company manual of how all job functions are performed. The employees are the experts of their positions, thus the most qualified to document what exactly it is that they do.

Employees may also suggest that they do not have enough time to document their processes. This is not an acceptable excuse. Allow employees time during their work day to work on this project. Additionally, if they document processes while doing them, it’s much easier to remember each step involved.

Documentation also serves as insurance for the employer since there is guarantee that employees will stay with the company. So while employees may feel a bit insecure about documentation, employers share the same worry about employees leaving. So this process is for the better of everyone and the company as a whole.

Implementation of a Documentation Plan

One you have briefed employees on the importance of documentation, it’s time to start rolling out implementation!

  1. Stress the importance of documentation and reassure it’s for the benefit of both the company and employees
  2. Set a schedule for the project with deadlines for completion
  3. Have all employees document their processes using the same format to maintain consistency and send an initial draft to a team member for review
  4. Once the initial draft has been reviewed, have employees update as needed and submit a revised draft
  5. Compile copies of all the procedures to be held in one place with copies available to the appropriate employees
  6. Update as necessary

Each process should include the following:

  • Title describing the process name
  • Purpose of why the procedure is performed and important
  • Frequency describing how often the procedure should be performed (i.e. daily, weekly, monthly, as necessary, etc;)
  • Department(s) responsible
  • Forms – any forms that are required and their location within the company (this could be supplemented with any software, machine or product requirements)
  • Instructions detailing each and every step to complete the process
  • Troubleshooting guide in the event any issues arise and how to resolve them
  • Date of last revision

Download my free process documentation template here: Microsoft Word or PDF

When employees are documenting their processes, they should keep the following in mind:

  1. Explain the process from the very start; it helps to write each step while it is being performed
  2. Write as if someone who has never done this before will be doing this procedure – the more detail the better; assume they don’t know anything about the process
  3. Detail each step of the process with specific details
  4. Add annotated screenshots where necessary
  5. Include links if someone must log in to a website as well as the person/department who has login credentials or where this information can be accessed
  6. If something needs approval, note the person, position responsible for approving
  7. Include how the person will know the process is complete
  8. Test the instructions by having someone from another department follow the instructions and update the process to answer any questions they may have or anything that was missing
  9. Review the procedure periodically to make sure it is up-to-date and still accurate with any changes that may have occurred & update the date in the footer to reflect the most recent revision
  10. Keep a copy of the procedure in a place where employees can access it and send out revisions to those involved each time the procedure is updated

Remember

This process can only remain effective when implemented correctly and maintained. To fully succeed, all employees must do their part and must be held responsible for completing their portion completely and accurately. This is not something that can be done once and left; as processes change, procedures need to be updated to reflect the changes.

Once this project is done, your company will have a user manual for completing the tasks for each department and position in the company.

Also see: 5 Steps to Incorporate Lean Manufacturing Into Your Business

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How to Convert PDF Scans to Enable Text Highlighting Using OCR (With Video)

If you’ve ever been in the position where you are handed a printed document and asked to re-type the contents, you know what a maddening and time-consuming task it can be. But that’s reality and sometimes you just can’t get a copy of the original document. Or maybe you printed a document and forgot to save it and now need to make changes to it.

Luckily, there’s a simple solution that will allow you to convert a scanned document to a PDF that will allow text highlighting.

Adobe Acrobat Pro has a feature called OCR Text Recognition. OCR stands for optical text recognition and is the ability for a program to decipher text on a scanned document.  I’ll show you how to do this using a scan of a newspaper (so you know how well this really works—I’m not using a PDF document, I’m using an actual scan).

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So Here’s How to Use OCR:

Scan the document and open in Adobe Acrobat Pro. If you click on the document to try to highlight the text, you’ll notice it highlights the entire page as shown below.

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Click on Document > OCR Text Recognition > Recognize Text Using OCR as shown below.

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A message box will appear asking which pages to decipher. The default should be what you want, so click OK.

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A progress bar will appear at the bottom of the screen while Adobe Acrobat recognizes the text. This might take a few moments. When the analysis is done, you will now have a document in which you can highlight text!

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Keep in mind that this isn’t perfect and while it works really well for most documents, there may be times in which a document is not of a quality to be properly deciphered. However, this is a great feature and one I use quite often. It makes life so much easier and saves me from having to re-type documents, which is worth it every time!

Video Tutorial: How to Schedule Posts on Facebook

If you manage a Facebook page, it is imperative you know how to schedule posts. You can spend 30 minutes scheduling a months’ worth of posts and save yourself from scrambling to come up with content at the last minute.

One great example is for the holidays. If you know you’re going to be closed during the holidays or have special hours, you can schedule a post to wish your fans well and note the hours up to months in advance so you don’t have to worry about it at the last minute.

Scheduling posts is super easy, especially with the recent updates made by Facebook, and scheduling in advance can save you tons of time by planning ahead.

Video created using Cam Studio (http://camstudio.org)

Recommended Books About Facebook

Don’t forget to check out my book!

Everything I’ve Learned About Facebook: A complete guide on how to create, strategize, manage and promote your Facebook page to increase customer base and brand awareness for any size business

Video Tutorial: How to Use Format Cell, Auto Sum & Equations in Excel

This is a sample fictional budget to demonstrate how to use the format cell function, auto sum and simple equations in Excel. I demonstrate how to calculate a budget of monthly bills and extend the calculation to determine the cost of bills per year.

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These are standard formulas and functions everyone should know to make using Excel more efficient.

Tutorial was done in Excel 2010 but alternative options were shown for previous versions of Excel.

Video created using Cam Studio (http://camstudio.org)

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Video Tutorial: How to use the vlookup function in Excel

Here’s a video tutorial I created to demonstrate how to use the vlookup function in Excel.  Excel 2010 was used, however this function works very similarly in most versions of Excel.

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The vlookup function allows a user to find data that matches a field in a spreadsheet. In this example, we look up fictional employee numbers based upon employee first and last name.

Also shown is two ways to copy the formula to several other cells by dragging or copy and pasting.

Video created using Cam Studio (http://camstudio.org)

Learn Everything There is to Know About Microsoft Excel

7 Steps to More Productive Meetings

I’m not a big fan of meetings, but I also understand how important they can be. Meetings are a great way to share ideas, set goals, and accomplish large tasks that would be complicated to do over the phone or email. But meetings can also be very counterproductive if they are unfocused and lacking executable goals.

Below are seven steps that can help you make the most out of meetings and yield excellent results through preparation, communication and follow-up.

1. Have an agenda prepared. Avoid having the “meeting before the meeting” by creating an agenda covering all topics you want to discuss, any materials or data you would like the attendees to bring with them, goals you want to achieve and a call to action. Send a copy to all attendees noting anything in particular they should be aware of. By notifying everyone of the purpose of the meeting and intended goals ahead of time, everyone can come to the meeting prepared and ready to tackle your objectives.

2. Stick to your time limit. Creating an agenda will allow you to estimate approximately how much time will be needed to accomplish the goals listed so use that as a basis for the length of the meeting. If you are halfway through your allotted meeting time and still on the first point of your agenda, decide if you can still cover all of the topics within the timeframe you scheduled. If not, consult with the attendees on whether they are able to stay for an extended meeting, if they can meet later on to finish the meeting or if the balance can be handled by email or phone. Remember, the longer you keep employees in a meeting, the less time they have to complete their work and the more they feel their schedule has been disrespected. Keep it relevant, on topic and on schedule.

3. Timing is everything. If you work in an office in which employees work different schedules, make sure you are aware of the schedules of those attending as well as what time of day you are scheduling meetings. You wouldn’t want to schedule an action-oriented meeting at the end of the day right before employees go home because they won’t be able to act on the meeting’s objectives until the next day. Meetings right before or after lunch may bring distracted hungry attendees or slightly sleepy siesta attendees, so try to avoid meetings around lunchtime. Friday afternoons can be one of the worst times for a meeting because employees are distracted, thinking about weekend plans and trying to tie up loose ends before they leave for the weekend. Avoid them at all costs. Early morning meetings may prevent employees from being prepared—give them time to get settled in, check email and prepare for the meeting.

4. Be punctual. Since you’ve taken the time to set an agenda and a schedule, make sure you start your meeting on time. This is out of respect to those who were prompt and to you as the meeting setter. If anyone has not arrived by the start time, start the meeting without them and let them catch up on their own time. If you continually blow off meetings or allow late-comers to delay your meetings, attendees will stop respecting the schedule you have set.

5. Stay on topic. Nothing is more stressful to employees than thinking about all the work they have piling up while they are stuck in a meeting. What makes it worse is when others in the meeting go off-topic and the objectives quickly get lost. The meeting has quickly become deemed pointless and a waste of time. Be aware if the meeting starts getting off-topic and nip it in the bud immediately so you stay on topic and respect the time of the attendees.

6. Set clear goals. The whole reason for having a meeting is to discuss an idea, set a call to action and delegate which team members will work to accomplish the goals set at the meeting. Make sure each attendee understands his/her responsibilities and deadlines. This can be written as part of the agenda or created in the form of a checklist, but make sure each attendee has a clear understanding of what he/she is responsible for completing.

7. Follow up. After the meeting, send a brief summary to all attendees re-stating the purpose of the meeting, the goals, responsibilities and deadlines. This reinforces the goals you clearly stated and serves as a reminder of what is expected by all attendees. This also a way to illustrate the big picture of the meeting and how all contributions will tie together in the end.

How do you make the most out of your meetings?

Related articles:

7 Methods for Managing Your Email Inbox

I was on vacation for a few days recently missing two days of work. I returned to 123 emails, and this was after notifying coworkers I would be out of the office, using an out-of-office auto-reply and unsubscribing from as many unnecessary email lists as possible over the past several weeks. Email can be overwhelming, unproductive and cause employees to stress about returning from vacation or even lead them to checking work email while on vacation, just to keep up.  However, with a system to manage email, it doesn’t have to be so overwhelming.

So for this blog post, I asked others about their best practices for managing their inbox. Do they set daily goals for the “inbox zero” goal of the ideal state of having zero emails in the inbox as often as possible or have other methods that have helped them tackle the beast that email has become?

Here’s the top 7 suggestions:

1. Handle each email just one time. “When I get an email, I may scan my inbox for an idea of the priority/urgency of an email,” said Joanne Young, MBA, PMP via LinkedIn. “If it is truly urgent, and is marked as such, I will usually try to handle it right away, and this involves addressing its content thoroughly in my response, research, or delegation to another person. That way, I know it has been handled, and it can be put in my ‘handled’ file.”

2. Set times throughout the day to check emails. “If email is given a slotted time, it does not interfere as much with productivity, because it is usually a slot of ‘free’ time that it is allocated, meaning that productive time is spent doing more productive things,” said Joanne Young, MBA, PMP via LinkedIn. “I have blocked out on my calendar three times in a day when I will review my Inbox for new mail. This way, I have set hours, and have been able to set expectations with others that all mail will be read and disposition handled by the end of the day.”

3. Reduce unnecessary emails. It is very easy to get added to email lists and quickly, you will discover that the bulk of your emails are from these email lists, not genuine emails from colleagues, friends or family. At one point, these emails were relevant but they can quickly take on a life of their own, overwhelming your inbox. “I take my name off email lists if they’re starting to send me too much,” said Lisa A. Nofzinger via LinkedIn.

4. Use alternate methods of communicating when possible. “Email encourages and promotes a ‘fire-and-forget’ culture of passing on responsibility and action,” said Paul Docherty via LinkedIn. “The key to effective corporate use of email is to break this culture and use email as a communication tool, not THE communication tool.” Using the phone instead of email can be the best option when an urgent response is needed. “If something is so urgent that it needs an urgent email, it would seem to me that the sender may even want to think twice about the email as such, and perhaps use it as a follow-up to a phone call, which will normally get immediate attention,“ said Joanne Young, MBA, PMP via LinkedIn.

5. Organize and sort using folders. “I have three folders (excluding the inbox which should always have less than 5 emails in it): Needs reply, awaiting response, archive,” said Simon Barker via LinkedIn. Upon receiving an email, Barker actions it immediately, reading and responding if possible, adding tasking emails to a to-do list and moving the email to the appropriate folder for managing as soon as possible. This helps him keep to his not-quite-as-strict 5 email inbox limit goal. “I also have folders for longer-term follow-up that help me manage the volume of input some days, and allows me to catch up on a later date if still relevant,” said Frits Bos, PMP via LinkedIn.

6. Handle it immediately. “If I get e-mail I instantly deal with it where possible, said Claire Wesley via LinkedIn. “And I deal with my e-mails on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. I hate having millions of e-mails in there!”

7. Minimize email use. “Don’t necessarily look at your emails outside of [your scheduled time] unless you are looking for or waiting for something important that you know is coming,” said Paul Docherty via LinkedIn. “Mobile email is incredibly destructive in this respect. The continual interruption, distraction and temptation can really destroy your productivity. If something is so important that it needs to be dealt with right away, then email is not the medium that should be used to get your attention. People should understand this.”

Several respondents also mentioned not accessing email regularly on mobile devices because it can interrupt productivity and interfere with your life outside of work. “I do not let my emails and smart phone saturated my life,” said Vernita Naylor via LinkedIn. “Life is too short and should be enjoyed as well.”

The underlying theme of all of the responses were to develop a system that works for you, your contacts and your company to maximize the efficiency of handling email. What works for some may not work for other. However, if you have a system in place and stick to it, chances are you will have a better handle of your email.

What has worked for you in managing your inbox?