The clarity of your finance department’s policy manual can be the difference between polished processes and confused chaos.
Of course, the language about payments, taxes and deadlines makes perfect sense to you and your well-trained staffers. But is it as straightforward for busy invoice and timesheet approvers? Does it make sense to employees in various departments? Is it clear enough for those who are newer or only deal with Finance occasionally?
When reviewing your finance department’s policy manual, you want to verify not only that it’s current – but that it’s worded well. That way, everyone reading it gets your processes right the first time.
Here are four tips from workplace expert Robert Lentz that you can share with your staff to refine and enhance your current policy manual:
1. Create detailed section headers
When separating subjects or topics, your finance staffers will want to avoid broad headers like Mail or Direct Deposit. They should use more descriptive language, like Processing incoming payables mail or Steps for direct deposit sign-ups.
Vague headers can mean too many things, Lentz says. Being specific helps users find what they need quickly. And if they have a positive, painless experience with reading Finance’s policy manual, they’ll be much more likely to follow the rules inside it.
2. Chop up process descriptions
Long paragraphs detailing multiple steps will make users’ eyes start to glaze over. Before you know it, impatience takes over. They close your manual and decide to just “wing it” or “figure it out as they go.”
Encourage your staff to replace lengthy descriptions in your policy manual with bulleted points or numbered lists whenever they can. And if they’re detailing a really long or complex process, have them bold or highlight the phrases that are most crucial, Lentz suggests.
3. Explain your instructions
When users learn new procedures, they instinctively think about how they can take shortcuts, Lentz says. It’s important to show people the logic behind instructions, so they aren’t tempted to work around them and ultimately cause problems for your finance department.
Take this example: Send P.O.s and supporting documents to firstname.lastname@example.org
A better revision would be: Send all P.O.s and supporting documents to email@example.com as soon as they’re received. This will help prevent confusion and delays that occur when items are sent to various, decentralized locations.
4. Be mindful of references to time
Advise your finance staffers to watch their use of words like old and new. They have no meaning in a constantly evolving document like your policy manual, Lentz says.
Instead, it can help to add dates when possible. For example, if your staff needs to reference an old system, they can tack on: (retired as of January 2019). Or when discussing a new system, they may add: (effective as of March 2019). This clarity will also show users that your department’s on top of things and providing a fitting, updated policy manual.