What is a Procedure? Definition and Example
Procedures offer steps or instructions for how to complete a project or task in the office. Your company might use a specific procedure for actions like sending files to clients or conducting office fire drills. You might encounter procedures at work through training manuals or in-person information sessions where superiors explain company procedures to their employees. In this article, we explore what a procedure is and when to use one, including steps for writing a procedure and an example.
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What is a procedure?
A procedure is a method for completing something with steps and instructions for each aspect of the task. Procedures often stay consistent once they're established to maintain a general understanding of what employees should do in various circumstances. People who write procedures also typically make them as specific as possible so employees can follow them easily and so new hires can use them to learn how the office operates. Different procedures can apply to each part of a business, but you might come across procedures in places like training manuals, information sessions and guided tutorials.
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When to use a procedure
Procedures are most useful for tasks that involve multiple steps or require documentation. One way to determine whether you need to implement a procedure for something is to observe how others typically operate and identify any inconsistencies in the work. If there are multiple inconsistencies in how different employees complete a certain process, it might indicate that you need a written procedure to guide employees. Here are a few other cases where you might want to establish a procedure:
A project is long-term.
A project has multiple steps with specific actions.
A task is necessary for every employee to complete regularly.
A process requires documentation, like for hiring or disciplining staff members.
Several employees seem confused by one or more parts of the project.
Questions about the task are repeated.
The process is vague or can be interpreted in multiple ways.
Related: Creating an Employee Handbook
How to write a procedure
Here are some steps for writing a procedure:
1. Plan your procedure
Consider the aspects of a procedure that might need attention before you begin writing it. This can include choosing which process to write a procedure for and gathering any information surrounding it, including who performs it, how long it should take and what they might need to do so. The planning stage might also involve identifying a platform to write your procedure on, like pen and paper or a digital program, or establishing the layout for the procedure, such as whether it's a single list of numbered steps or collection of comprehensive instructions.
2. Introduce the procedure
Start your procedure with a brief introduction. This allows you to address details like what the procedure does and who should use it. You can also use this section to highlight why it's important to implement the procedure within the company. An introduction can be short but should include enough information to familiarize employees with the procedure itself and the logic behind its creation.
3. List the necessary resources
Make a list of resources employees might need to complete the procedure correctly. Resources for a procedure might include physical materials or supplies that a project calls for or basic knowledge of specific operations that the procedure utilizes. You might also include digital resources, like passwords, key codes or access codes, so that employees can use any online tools that might benefit the procedure. By listing the necessary resources, you can help your fellow employees be prepared for any course of action the procedure might call for.
4. Include additional media
Use alternative media in your procedure like audio or visual elements. Adding images, videos or audio files to your procedure can help illustrate more complex ideas with visual examples and recorded instructions. You might also use a video to include a demonstration in your procedure if a step requires specific action that might be interpreted in different ways when written down. Alternative media can add variance to your procedure as well, so that employees have more to reference than only text.
5. Test your procedure
Determine how effective your procedure is through a trial run. You can test your procedure by giving it to a few employees in a controlled environment and observing how they use it. This can show which parts of the procedure communication information clearly and which parts might need some revision to be most effective based on your observation. Employees who try the procedure can also offer feedback on which aspects of the procedure they find particularly helpful.
For example, if one of the steps of your procedure is to create a spreadsheet in Excel, you can see how employees participating in the test interpret the instruction by comparing the spreadsheets they create to each other as well as a sample spreadsheet that you create according to your preferred guidelines. Then, you can decide whether your instructions are thorough enough or if you need to add more detail.
6. Implement your procedure
Put your procedure into practice in the office. This can involve distributing your procedure to the teams who use it or hosting an informational meeting for the office to introduce the practice. During this stage, you can also communicate with team members to offer help in case questions arise about how to use the procedure or about specific steps it includes. Because of the planning, building and testing your procedure undergoes, it's likely that employees can follow the steps you provide with clarity and ease.
Here's an example of a procedure for sending check-in emails to clients:
*Introduction: Sending check-in emails to clients is an important part of our business. Because we service multiple accounts at once, it's helpful to be aware of the progress we're making with each client to ensure we're providing them with everything they need. Account executives and sales representatives are the two main employee groups who will likely use this procedure most frequently.* This procedure will guide you through the steps for sending a check-in email to your clients, such as how to address them, what to include and how to sign-off.
*Resources: This procedure calls for the following resources:*
your company email account
a client list with email addresses
Steps for sending check-in emails to clients:
Find the email address of the client you're checking in with
Determine which services we provided for the client
Open a draft for a new email from your company email account
Address the email to the client by including their first name or their title and last name in the greeting
Mention the service we provide for the client in the first paragraph of the email, using the language: "I just wanted to check in about the _____ we performed for you on the date of _____.
Offer additional service in the second paragraph in the email, using the language: "We also provide ____ services for all of your ____ needs."
Invite the client to contact you, using language similar to: "Please feel free to contact me with any questions about how we can help you with our service."
Sign off with a friendly greeting such as "best" or "cheers" and your company email signature.
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