5 steps to flawless documentation and job manuals

One of the most valuable pieces of intellectual property an employee can develop within an organization is his or her own job manual. A job manual includes clear step-by-step instructions and how-tos for accomplishing specific tasks and managing certain responsibilities, helping employees prioritize responsibilities and eliminate inefficiencies. Workflow documentation can dramatically help individuals and teams work faster, smarter and more efficiently.

Job manuals also help employees share responsibilities.

“As a rule of thumb, having a documented step by step way of doing tasks that happen repeatedly is a way to ensure that if someone needs to step in to take over, there is some direction even if the new person has never done the job,” says Anna Olson, a leadership coach and CEO of AMO Consulting, LLC. By taking time today, you’re ensuring that the business retains important knowledge that would otherwise be lost forever if/when an employee leaves.

Job manuals make it easier for companies to train staff and foster a more empathetic workplace, too. Olson believes businesses “should be sharing information and cross training employees in other areas as well so that [they] can understand how roles influence each other and in order to be able to step in and help out if needed.” In some ways, jobs manuals provide a hands-off and scalable approach to communicating the specifics of each employee’s role within a company. Whenever someone needs to assume a new responsibility, “[documented steps and manuals allow] for questions to be answered and errors to be avoided or corrected in the moment,” says Olson. Over time, team members learn the intimate details of what their peers do and develop a more unified workplace culture.

For team members to collaborate smarter, they will need to be strong communicators. One of the easiest ways to communicate what you do and how you do it is through personal job manuals. For workers to become better at documenting their processes and workflows, here are five important steps.

  1. Quickly outline how you accomplish tasks immediately after you do them. This is the easiest way to start documenting the way you work with minimal interruption to your overall productivity. Jot down any thoughts you would want to reference later and avoid spending too much time on this step. You’ll have the opportunity to elaborate on things later.
  2. At the end of each day, fill in the blanks. While your memory is still fresh, add detail to your outlines. That way, days or weeks later, you can easily recall how to complete the same task in the same manner. This is also a good exercise that allows you to unwind before your work day ends.
  3. Provide context. Write down the objective and your anticipated goals for each of your responsibilities. This reinforces why you do certain things. It also provides clarity around which items are essential to the long-term goals of the organization and which ones are no longer worth doing.
  4. Share your job manual. Before you distribute your job manual to everyone at the company, first, share it with a close collaborator. That person can provide invaluable feedback and call out items that are missing or are redundant. After a round of editing, share your job manual with the rest of the company. Your colleagues will be able to offer objective opinions on ways to further optimize your workflow. At the same time, they will learn more about what it is you do, what your impact to the overall organization is, and how they can help you accomplish your goals too.
  5. Audit your work. Be vigilant about improving the way you do things. With a job manual, you can easily include value-add steps, remove non-essential tasks and streamline your processes. Do this on a weekly or monthly basis to ensure you work smarter, not harder.

As an individual’s job description expands, it can be difficult for that person to recall every little detail about the way she works. Proper documentation effectively addresses that problem and empowers team members to contribute to your overall success, too.

What are your best-kept secrets for documenting your role, responsibilities and impact?

Post by Danny Wong

Danny Wong is an entrepreneur, marketer, and writer. He is the co-founder of Blank Label (an award winning menswear company focusing on luxury made-to-measure garments) and does marketing at Grapevine (a platform that drives eCommerce, helping retailers partner with YouTube celebrities). Tweet him @dannywong1190