Put it in Writing: Tips for updating your vendor management
Written by Josh Layne, VP
Most of us don’t get very excited about writing or updating procedures – any procedures. We know it’s necessary, we know it will take a while and we would generally rather do something else. It can be enticing to just grab something online, make a few edits, do a little formatting and move on. Problem solved.
Then there are others among us who really like writing procedures. We tend to have the opposite problem. We can get caught up in The Zone, detailing every step in every process and writing pages and pages of perfectly worded instruction for every circumstance and situation.
Either approach will create procedures. But…
If you grab a good set of procedures off a trusted industry website, you may not fully understand the processes. They may be overly simplified for the biggest audience and they may not translate well to your institution. It creates questions, needs explanation and is difficult to police.
If you decide to write very detailed, lovingly curated procedures, full of exacting language and step-by-step instruction, you will eventually find out that no one will ever read them, let alone fully apply them.
Both are two sides of the same coin that creates a major problem: your procedures will not be very usable.
For over a decade, I have been working with our clients to help create very usable vendor management procedures and have encountered both approaches many times. After many hard-learned lessons, I want to share my five best tips to create vendor management procedures that are very usable.
Tip 1 – Split Policy from Procedures
When starting a new procedure drafting session with a client, we often inherit a merged policy and procedure set. The first thing we do is break it apart. Policy should be written at a higher level for the Board, chiefs and especially examiners. Policy will include the what and why of vendor management.
Procedures need to focus on the when, where and how. These are meant for a different audience, so splitting policy away immediately gives us the advantage of speaking to each audience differently about what is directly relative to them.
Policy also usually needs Board approval. Splitting procedures away from policy will give us freedom to make tweaks and minor changes to process as we encounter them in real time without requiring another Board approval cycle.
Tip 2 – Add a Definitions Section
At Maple Street, all our procedure (and policy) templates we work from include a Definitions section. It’s important we’re all clear on what we’re talking about when we’re executing process. Many phrases, words, roles and actions in vendor management are unique to the process so we need to make sure everyone is up to speed with what these are and what they’re not. It’s also likely many people assigned responsibilities in vendor management are new to it or do it only occasionally and need a constant refresher. We should all mean the same thing when we say “critical risk rank” or “due diligence” when we’re all executing procedures, demystifying the terms and minimizing confusion.
Tip 3 – Always Assign Roles and Responsibilities
For a process to be effective, it needs to have ownership and accountability. Throughout vendor management, specific responsibilities always need to be assigned to specific roles. It’s not enough to say “Team Members,” or “Staff” or “Management.” It needs to be specific and tied to a role, which can be defined in the Definitions section. This makes it clear for whoever is executing procedures that something is required. It also makes it easier for whoever will be policing procedures to track down what is left undone and who is responsible.
My tip within a tip is to never define a role in procedures with a person; always assign a role with a job function or job title. So instead of Josh Layne being assigned a responsibility, the VP of Vendor Compliance would be. People will inevitably change, but job functions won’t change as often.
Tip 4 – Always Be Direct
I see a lot of qualifying language and overly written explanations about the why in procedures. It’s usually just clutter and is much better reserved for the policy and that audience. Overwritten procedures with good intentions of creating a kind of politeness will also create sections that need to be sifted through for people using procedures to get to the what, when and how.
Very usable procedures are direct. It’s not important that they’re overly polite and extremely well written. Procedures are meant to get an action accomplished with enough information for someone following the process to get it done with minimal room for interpretation or confusion. If you expect or require something to happen, say that as clearly as possible. There is no need to dance around expectations or overwrite why it needs to be done. Refer to the policy for that.
Tip 5 – Use Checklists Whenever Details are Required
This one is tricky. The procedures need to provide instructions on how to meet an expected objective. It should include enough detail so a user can get through the steps to achieve the objective. The trick is to be detailed where it makes sense, but not so detailed throughout you end up overcomplicating a process someone should be able to reasonably intuit.
A trick we use at Maple Street is when detail is required, we break out the process into concise checklists so we can walk a user through every step required, adding as much detail and clarity as needed to accomplish the objective, packaged to a specific process. When details are contained to a checklist, it is much easier to follow, complete, update and police.
By not embedding all the steps and fine points into the main procedures, we gain two advantages:
First, we don’t make a user wade through details unnecessarily. When we are required to navigate through things that are irrelevant to the objective, it slows us down, can make us double back and can create unnecessary confusion. The usability of the overall procedures gets flushed down the drain. The procedures instead will state “complete the checklist” and the checklist can be as detailed as appropriate.
Second, separate process checklists allow us to update and adjust procedures when we need to through the checklist without having to take down the entire procedure set. When a procedure is embedded with too many details and there is a need to make a change, tracking back through and making all necessary updates can be very difficult. Oversights happen, conflicts can be created and confusion breeds. The result, the procedures are not very usable.
Are you interested in learning more about vendor management procedures for 2021? Give Maple Street a call at (321) 257-3930 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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