Why do I need a manual to tell my staff what to do?

Team Management

What is your learning style?

Do you learn by reading instructions?  By seeing pictures or diagrams? By Doing the task? By a combination of reading, seeing and doing?

Chances are high that each of you will have answered in a different way, because we all learn in different ways and sometimes, different ways at different stages of our lives or depending on what we are learning. 

This means, that as a business owner with a team of people (small or large), you will at some stage, face the challenge of trying to effectively train, communicate and engage your staff. 

I hear you ask, “Why can’t I just tell them what to do as they go?”  Good question, and sometimes that will work with regular tasks; however, it is a documented fact (and one I’ve been guilty of myself), that when we learn something new, only 30% of what is being taught is retained at the time!

So what do you do?  Do you keep telling them over and over until they get it right?  Surely that is a waste of your valuable time, energy and sanity?!  Do you leave it to a senior staff member to train them and hope for the best? The risk with that is … what if the senior staff member doesn’t have it quite right? 

Answer: write it all down for them!  Even people, who don’t learn by reading, need a reference document to come back to from time to time to check a particular procedure. 

Lets flip this situation (which I always find helps you understand things from another angle) what if YOU were the one learning?  Lets say that you are a “doing” learning style.  Day 1, you are trained on a new computer system, a new way of ordering stock, a new way of filing and a new way of interacting with customers.  You’ve been trained and shown everything; you had a chance to do things along the way.  BUT … by day 2 you go into work, you have completely forgotten how they liked the filing done …. You think it was alphabetically, then client number and it was done on Tuesdays … you don’t want to ask already because it makes you feel incompetent (the last thing you want to feel on day 2!).  If there was a procedures manual that you could just look up to check … what a relief that would be!

So you can see that a procedures manual doesn’t need to be the dreaded, wordy, out of date document that no one ever reads … it saves the time and sanity of the owner of the business, and it supports your team with practical tools that they can refer to when needed.  It also ensures that you deliver a consistent level of service, which has been documented as the most valued element of customer service across all industries.

So you are all ready to start!  Here are the “must haves” for writing your procedures manual (call it a “guide”, “the go-to book”, “the employee handbook” … whatever resonates best with you and your team).

a.     Involve the team in the writing of the manual (senior members of your team in particular)

b.     Have an index so they can flick to the topic they need in a hurry

c.     Do “clue cards” for the regular tasks  (like how to take payments etc) that they can put up on a wall and see quickly / often

d.     Include your businesses Vision & Mission statement

e.     Include pictures / diagrams if applicable to break up all those “words” and make it easier for that learning style (screen shots of systems is a great example)

f.      Keep it updated!  (Put date created and dates reviewed on the top of the document.)

g.     Don’t waffle on! Get your point across in as few a words as possible.

h.     If possible – keep it online in a shared folder as well as a printed version

i.      Have a ½ day off-site to go through the procedures manual so that everyone understands what it’s all about … it is here to help them as much as you!


Each task in the manual should cover:

What – what the procedure is

Why – to explain the importance / implication if it is not done

Who – who does (or does not do) the task

When – what triggers the task / action

How – step-by-step guide to how something is done (ie the systems, scripts for what they should say in certain situations etc)


For example:

1.              Opening the shop 

a.     Opening the shop needs to occur on time each morning (the What), Failing to open on time can lead to our clients waiting for the clinic to open, leading to dissatisfaction or frustration, leading to potential loss of business (the Why)

b.     All team members with a key may open the shop (the Who)

c.     The shop should be opened every day at 8am (the When)

d.     Check list for opening the shop: (the How)

                                               i.     Open front door

                                             ii.     Turn on the lights

                                            iii.     Start computer

                                            iv.     Turn off answering machine

                                              v.     Check messages


It sounds like a big task but you’ll be surprised how quickly it comes together once you start.  Alternatively, call Effective Business to handle this one for you!

Kate Theofanes

Owner and Principal Specialist at Effective Business

We are a business improvement specialist firm. What makes us different from consulting firms is that each interaction we have is tailored to the needs of the business at the time and we stick around to help implement changes. I have over 15 yrs business experience, ranging from small family businesses (including owning a hair dressing salon) to running departments at a major airline. My passion is to see people achieve their goals through the support and guidance I provide.

Comments (2)
Eric Phuah

Eric Phuah, Director at

As someone who likes to work in a logical fashion, I totally approve of this method. Workers can always try work it out themselves, but having a documented procedure gives them something to fall back on, and also reaffirms their actions and lets them know they're doing it right, instead of them working tentatively. Spending the time documenting the steps now will save a lot of time in the future.

Wendy Huang

Wendy Huang, Full Time Blogger and YouTuber at A Custom Blog in 4 Minutes

These are some great points! I actually found it challenging to train people on a new expense system that came out in my old company JnJ. Because it was such a different process people found it hard to break habit from filling out forms to filling in an online form. People were calling me every day for assistance, and no one liked to read the manuals. Having a great and fun manual would probably make the process so much easier. :)