Whenever I take on new one-on-one consulting clients, I ask them to send me a series of forms, templates and documents they might already have in place — such as anything financial-, operational-, staffing-, marketing- and/or sales-related — so I can review what they have before I arrive onsite.

I do it for many reasons.

I’m seeking to jump start the business by getting a 360° view of their companies. I’m trying to better understand where they’re weak or strong in the multiple areas it takes to run a successful business — no matter what type of work the business does.


Photo credit: ©istockphoto.com/michaelquirk

It gives me a head start on understanding the way their companies function, based on what gets sent to me and what isn’t in place yet.

I also do it to see where those clients are going over the top in their templates, forms and duplication in a misguided attempt to address every scenario or elicit perfection. It’s usually born out of frustration from the hope that if they create enough forms, their misbehaving staff will finally get things done right. The frustration comes through in the writing. The text is full of “shall,” “won’t,” “must,” “can’t” and more yelling through the use of color, overly large fonts, and heavy use of bold and underlining.

Oh, if writing it made it so — wouldn’t life as a boss be lovely?

A lot of companies adopt boilerplate materials that came through a trade association or an online source but aren’t customized to fit their businesses.

Logistics of language

One of the biggest holes for a company is having no job descriptions for the positions that it takes to run the company.

But even those companies who do have job descriptions can encounter severe staffing problems. That’s because many are poorly written. They’re filled with language that is subjective and requires staff members to be mind readers to know what you, the boss, really want them to do.

Some examples of subjective language in job descriptions are “punctual,” “neat,” “tidy” and “considerate.”

Compare the above to examples of objective language such as:

• “Meetings start at 7:59 a.m.”;

• “Shirts are fully buttoned up, except for the top one, and tucked in your uniform pants”; and

• “Normal business hours are Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., but since we’re a seasonal business, the need to work overtime is expected and required for continued employment.”

You’re either on time or you’re not. Your shirt is either buttoned up and tucked in or it’s not!

Even if you rewrite them using objective language, making behavior measurable, job descriptions can still be problematic because they are inflexible. When you, the boss, gives one of your employees one more task than he signed up for when he joined the company, he feels you’re taking advantage of him. Sometimes he feels he doesn’t have the time to do it, it’s not really his job, he should be given additional help and be paid more.

Funny, they never complain when you take away a task … do they?

How do you avoid this dilemma? Create an operations manual for each box on your organizational chart. This defines the activities that must go on about 80% of the time in the box that each employee occupies. You’ll never cover 100%, so let it go. Even if you could, the book would be so big no one could use it and you’d still find the exception to the rule. Handle the routine 80% well and the 20% exception is easy.

The clients who work with me and who have created these detailed operations manuals are trained to say the following when training a new or existing employee on the manuals:

“This is the chapter of the Operations Manual that covers about 80% of what goes on in your box on the Organizational Chart. The nature of our work is always changing to better serve the customer, the company and you. Therefore, your position is always evolving. So when it does, your Operations Manual will change because it’s a living, breathing document. It also is your job description and how you’ll be held accountable, and recognized for good and poor behavior.”

Commit to creating the manuals that give you this type of flexibility and consistency, and say goodbye to inflexible job descriptions and employees who won’t go the extra mile.