A reader recently asked me about processes for his practice and how to write them up. Thanks for the question! Here is my “how to” for documenting practice processes.
Your business is really about two things: the people and the processes or systems you have in place to run the business. What separates your business from someone else’s that isn’t as profitable or effective is your processes. I know you may find that an unusual thing to say. Here’s why I think that processes are all important. People joined your business team because of your processes – the processes you used to attract them to your business, to hire them, to train them, and to keep them working with you.
I define a process as your way of doing something. They show how you want things done. Processes and systems help you create a culture that is unique to your practice. For example, the way you arrange the magazines in your waiting room or answer the telephone are examples of processes. Some of the processes you identify might seem like things that every practice does. However, your specific way of doing these things adds up to making your practice unique.
You might ask: “Well, what should I have processes for?” The answer is anything for which you want to have consistent, repeatable, and predictable results. Everything in your practice has a process that needs to be established and documented so that no matter who holds a position in the practice, the processes can be performed successfully.
The Key To Great Processes Is Writing Them Down And Making Them Easily Accessible
“How do I go about creating these processes?” Acknowledging that it is important to have processes that are repeatable and written down is the place to start. For processes to work you must have a process book, a place where you store all your written processes that everyone can access. This can be an actual binder or an electronic folder online. You may find it valuable to have a master process book that holds all the processes and individual process books for people or jobs. The key is to make the processes complete and easy to find. The idea is that your processes are so good and complete that if the person doing the job that the processes apply to were hit by the proverbial bus and someone with a comparable skillset stepped in, they could do everything perfectly.
How To Write Great Processes
I recommend four process-writing steps. Follow these four steps to establish and document the processes that make your practice work and give it a unique edge.
- Name of the Process
- Purpose of the Process
- Who is Responsible for the Process
- Measures of success
First, Name the Process. When you write up your processes, the first thing you want to do is to NAME the process. You want to name the process with a unique name to give it a light and meaning of its own. When a process is not named, every time the process is mentioned you end up having to describe what the entire process is. Naming each process allows team members to refer to each process without taking the time to describe all of the steps involved each time the process needs to happen. Process names save time. For example, if you have created a phone answering process and not named it, then you’ll spend time describing the phone answering process every time it needs to be used. An example of a process for answering phones might be named, “The Smiling Answering System”.
Process names provide a short-hand for talking to each other about what needs to be done. Process names make it easy to refer back to something that takes time to describe. Process names serve as a tool for recalling a larger set of steps that can be summarized by the use of the process name.
The process names you select help you put your stamp of uniqueness on your business. If you remember, in my book The Automated Practice, I name the strategic process I’ve used to generate new patients using events the New Patient No Doc Event Strategy.
Some additional examples of our process names that I share in the book include: Patient Intake Process; Hire Right Process; and the Patient Reactivation Process.
Second, define the Purpose of the Process. Be clear about the purpose of each process. A purpose statement states why the process is important and what the process is meant to achieve. A defined purpose statement allows everybody to know exactly what the process is, what steps must be taken to achieve the purpose, and what the final result is to be. If each process is not clearly defined by its purpose and steps for achievement, then you can have people that have a different interpretation than you do of what needs to be done. Clarity of purpose leads to clarity in action and to measurable results (more in step four). When everyone knows what needs to be done and why success is more likely.
If you have read or followed Simon Sinek, his book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, focuses on understanding why we do things. He talks about a deeper level of reason behind the things we do, asking “what’s the meaning behind it?” Depict the “why” in your process definitions.
Instruct staff how to define and document the processes and systems in your business. Good documentation includes when the process is to be performed, the precise steps someone needs to take to complete the process from start to finish, any tools, passwords, or other materials they will need (and where to find them) to complete the process. Be sure to include what to do if any part of the process doesn’t work where appropriate, for example, if the credit card machine won’t work, what are the troubleshooting steps. And, if a process fails or can’t be performed who should be notified. Encourage your staff to be thorough. Without staff team participation, understanding and buy in, you can end up with people saying things like: “I don’t know why we have to answer the phone like this, ‘Good morning Schrier Physical Therapy. How may I help you?’ Can’t I just answer it, ‘Hey, it’s Schrier Physical Therapy’? Does it really matter?” The answer, of course, is that it does matter.
When you’re clear on what the purpose is, then the people you are asking to achieve the process will already know why things need to be done according to each step in the process. And, you’ll know that when people are onboard or new people come onboard, they will understand both what needs to be done and why. As the practice leader, you can even say things like: “Our processes and their purposes are very clear. If you have a question about anything, please ask.”
It is important to know why we are doing things, which of course takes thought. Rather than just randomly doing things and checking them off of a list, a clearly defined set of processes and systems lead individuals and the team to achieving your vision for the practice. You might discover that purposes fall into Safety, Client Services, Facility Care, Therapy, and other groupings.
After you have the name and clearly stated purpose which includes documenting the steps for successfully completing the process, the next step is to identify who is responsible for the process.
Third, Who is Responsible for the Process. Who is going to be accomplishing or implementing the process? Will the process be used by every team member? Will it be implemented by only certain job functions? When I looked at the “how do we answer the phone at Schrier PT” question, I realized the process applied to any one of us who answered the phone. The process was not just for the front desk team members.
What I didn’t want was for some people to answer the phone “Hey this is Jamey. How can I help?” and other people answering the phone “Good morning, Schrier Physical Therapy. Jamey speaking. How can I help you?” I wanted all of us to be consistent in how we answered the phone. Knowing this helped me to identify WHO needed to learn and be trained on the phone answering process.
Knowing who will be performing the process based on job duties or roles is the key. You may identify the “who” for each process by listing job titles, followed by the current job holders’ names. The processes you identify during this four step approach will need to be accomplished no matter who holds the job(s) to get the work done.
In my book, you’ll learn more about the event strategy I mentioned in step one. I said, you needed a host, someone like an event coordinator. When we wrote this up for my practice, I didn’t list a person’s name. Grace was the person that was acting as the host, but I knew one day it may not be Grace. So under the “who” for the event strategy, I listed “event host” as the “who” this process is for.
When you’re creating your processes, be clear on whom by job title or function the process will be achieved by. You can add their name in parenthesis to show who currently holds the position and to indicate whom you expect to accomplish the process. Often the best person to document the specific position or function process is the person who does it regularly.
Fourth, Measures of Success. How will you measure the successful implementation and achievement of each process? Measures are tools for quantifying and quality-assessing what gets done. For instance, a quantity measure could be tied to how many cancellations we convert to rescheduled appointments. A quality-assessment measure is often tied to customer service delivery and questions like “Were you greeted when you entered our office?” and “Did you feel welcome?”
Quantity measures include numbers, percentages, increases, decreases, and frequency. Quality measures include satisfaction, willingness to refer our practice to others, and even things like “feeling that the person who answered the phone was smiling.”
Every process will have a measure or metric associated with it. The metrics are all connected to the financial dashboard (in my book, chapter 7). The financial dashboard metrics are the results of the processes that are related to them.
There is an old saying that says “what you measure gets done, what you don’t measure often gets left undone.” So, include a measure of success for every process you name.
Practice processes and systems can best be documented by Naming the process, defining the Purpose for the process (including the steps to be completed by the process), identifying Whom will be completing or implementing the process, and finally listing the Measures by which the process will be assessed.
If you have any questions or comments about establishing effective processes, anything that I can clarify, let’s have a discussion here in the comments. I’d like to engage with what you have to say and hear your questions and comments. I’m sure you have really great ones! If you’ve already begun documenting processes, share your experience in the comments too, they’ll be really helpful to others who are implementing this in their practice.
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