Toronto born Eric Muth and his firm Support Adventure specialize in providing offshore technical support & customer service solutions of excellent quality. In this series of articles, Eric will share some of his experience in making his outsourcing solutions a success for everyone involved.

3 – Documented Procedure vs. Common Sense

By Eric Muth
Founder, Support Adventure

I’ll begin this with a simple truth: The difference between having a business that runs itself and having a business that constantly requires your input and guidance is often related to how much documented procedure you give to your staff.

One of my clients likes to speak about something called “common sense”, or the lack thereof, whenever one of the technicians on the team behaves in a way that is not as he would have wanted. “All that’s required here is a little common sense,” he says, “If everyone working for me had common sense, I’d be a millionaire.”

Indeed, common sense is something which does exist. I’m sure we would all try to help someone whose clothes were on fire extinguish the flames, however, in an industry as complex and information dense as technical support, common sense becomes a bit of an elusive concept as many precise sensibilities vary wildly among different members of the human race.

While we computer technicians are capable of solving many complex problems using our intuition, fast thinking, knowledge, and experience, unfortunately, most of us cannot read the minds of our managers in order to behave how they would like us to in every situation. We can learn the desired sensibilities of the management over time, but that’s no substitute for implementing one simple principle:

In order to have members of a team behave consistently with what management would like, they need explicit procedures and guidelines to follow which are documented in a place where they can easily refer to them.

Implement this golden rule and your business will run much much smoother, your staff training will take less time and you as the manager will have a lot more time on your hands.

A perfect example of this is what constitutes an urgent problem that should be escalated to management immediately and how that escalation should take place. For example, a manager at a company probably would not like to be alerted if a single user cannot scan a document, no matter how ‘urgent’ the user purports it to be, but what if a) there is no clear plan for resolution or immediate workaround and b) the user in question is the decision maker at the company who signed the IT Support contract who needs to scan a document for an incredibly critical business matter?

The simplest solution to guide such situations would be to create a document describing various scenarios outlining what would constitute an immediate escalation, how the problem should be escalated, and to which level of staff.

While this is obvious to larger companies, as books like the E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber point out, clear documentation of business procedure is where many small businesses lack and this can make the lives of business owners who are trying to scale-up their operations a complete hell as they vaguely and repeatedly verbally explain concepts which they think should be obvious to their staff, but unfortunately aren’t obvious.

Step by step guides (video or text with picture) on how to do common tasks, checklists to look at when a task is being completed, examples of what a good job and bad job look like, all of these are great resources to give your teams to refer to so that they do not have to constantly ask for the management’s input. This can save frustration all around and makes it absolutely clear to everyone what the expectations are.

Next time you are in a fast food restaurant like McDonald’s, take a look at how things run. Everything is so strictly governed by consistent procedures that even a 16-year-old working a part time job when not at high school can follow the instructions and produce a result consistent with the restaurant’s worldwide standards.

Compare that with what you imagine would happen if you simply let the same teenager in the kitchen of a restaurant, gave them the ingredients, a copy of the menu and said “Make it taste good!”

To sum it up, many business mentors I have studied say that a business owner needs to “work on the business rather than in the business” and this definitely rings true with my experience. While working on the business, the best way to ensure that your business functions how you want it to is to produce clear procedural documentation that staff are required to follow. Following this rule can make the difference between constantly having to step in to nag your staff to behave differently and being able to sit back and watch your business as it functions without you.