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Six Ways to Revitalize Your Operations Manual

“Harry, where’s the Administration Manual? I’ve got reports due tomorrow at the franchise office. I’ve got to have the right accounting procedures.”
“Hey, you have any idea when our ______ is due? And don’t give me that worthless procedure manual. It’s bigger than a dictionary and impossible to find anything?”
“We really need to do something. These franchisees keep calling me to answer simple equipment maintenance and troubleshooting questions. I don’t have time to do my real job? Why don’t they use their manual?

Sound familiar? Keep reading.


The Operations Manual: An Effective Sales Tool

Experienced franchisors insist that a well written, thorough operations manual and training materials are your best sales tool. When a prospective franchisee is choosing between several franchises, odds are that he/she will go with the franchisor who provides them with the most support. Support means – an operations manual and training materials that are easy to understand, use and assists them in running a successful franchise.

Why don’t franchisors develop effective and user-friendly operations manuals? Why don’t employees use their operations manual?

Some reasons are:

  • New franchisors don’t have time to rewrite their operations manuals. They have many things to accomplish in preparation for the franchise offering.
  • Franchisors feel that their existing operations manual is “good enough.”
  • Many don’t know where to begin to improve their existing operations manual and training.

Both new as well as experienced franchisors have a need to revitalize their operations manual and training. New franchisors don’t realize that critical or unique operational details may still be “in their head” and not in their operations manual. Experienced franchisors who are looking to rapidly expand across the US or into other countries, need to review and improve their operations and training. It is time to move the franchise up to a Level 2 or 3 franchise. Revitalizing your operations manual doesn’t have to be difficult. Below are six ways for you to revitalize your operations manual and training.


Writing Approach

Most people think of operations manuals as boring necessities that aren’t particularly useful, primarily because of the way they are written. You know the ones – they resemble a legal document or insurance policy. These “text-heavy” manuals are usually in a numerical hierarchy with headings, sub-headings, and sub-sub-headings. In many cases the critical information ends up buried in one of the sub-sub-headings. This type of operations manual is sometimes so large, it is difficult to move or use. The manual that uses this writing approach isn’t very appealing to the new or experienced user.

Some writing approach alternatives:

  • Use descriptive headings that explain the process or procedure more completely. (Overview, Stage 1, Stage 2 etc. or Form ABC, How to Complete Form ABC)
  • Keep procedures to no more than 7 steps. (If a procedure has more than 7 steps, “chunk” it into a series of procedures with more specific descriptive headings - “How to …”)
  • Use simple sentences. Omit unnecessary words.
  • Use bulleted and numbered lists to help the learner more easily identify the important elements.

A writing approach that has gained popularity with franchisors recently, is to develop the operations manual as a training tool by including training tasks in the operations manual. The operations manual becomes both a reference document as well as a training document – a dual-purpose manual.

There are several methods that can be used to create a dual-purpose operations manual.

  • Using a quiz at the end of the critical topics (i.e. equipment maintenance, marketing efforts, or administrative processes). Users will be able to identify the most important information, because they are being tested on it. This also provides the franchisee manager an objective approach to certifying and evaluating employees.
  • Incorporating case studies which illustrate ways to meet challenging situations and better understand complex procedures. Adults learn by connecting new information to prior experiences which make case studies and scenarios a more effective method.
  • Providing a “management” version of the operations manual that the franchisee manager can use to train their employees. The management version would include “Training Tips and Examples” that the trainer can use.

Prior to creating your dual-purpose operations manual, however, identify the most critical areas of your business. They are the ones that separate your franchise from your competitors. It could be your customer service process or the efficient procedures used to provide a product or service. These important areas are the ones to focus on in the training sections of the manual.


Use of Illustrations/Graphics


“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Use visual aids such as: flow charts, completed example forms etc. to present important processes or procedures. Illustrations bring complicated procedures to life. Graphical icons help visual learners by marking content that reappears throughout the manual. Icons also create a more user-friendly operations manual.

Some examples:

  Key Points marks a key point, process, or procedure
  Recurring Procedure marks a procedure that is done monthly
  Health or Safety marks a safety or health issue


Box or TableUse boxes and tables to present information. This makes the information easy to locate and identifies its importance, and makes it easier to recall.

Use shading in boxes to differentiate types of information or highlight critical content.

Flowcharts and diagrams explain complex processes or procedures better than words alone.


Formatting Alternatives

The traditional operations manual is one BIG document  printed on 8.5 x 11 inch paper with tabs to divide sections. Some users have considered using it for a boat anchor or door stop!

Another format option is to separate the BIG document into smaller booklets and color code them for easier identification.  For example, Safety and Sanitation is a green cover, while a blue cover identifies the Administration section. These small booklets are three-hole punched and kept in a three-ring binder. When reference/training is required for a particular process or procedure, the trainer/user removes the booklet and reviews the information with the trainee. This eliminates lugging the BIG binder around and the possibility of losing important pages in the process.

A “portable” operations manual is popular. The traditional operations manual is divided into separate manuals for each function such as: Administration, Food & Beverage, Equipment, and Human Resources. Each is printed on legal paper in the “landscape” orientation, folded in half, and collated into a manual that is 8.5 x 7 inches and fits into a briefcase. Surprisingly, this size manual actually contains the same amount of text as an 8.5 x 11 inch page.


Interesting Type Face (Font) and Style

Choosing an interesting font and style will totally change the appearance of your operations manual. When the same font that is in your advertising or logo appears in your operations manual and training, it creates consistency in your documentation. If your franchise operation is a casual business such as  dog grooming or children’s party providers, using a less formal type face and style can convey the fun, upbeat, nature of the business. If your franchise operation is a more traditional business, a type face and style which mirrors stability and professionalism is more appropriate.

Use larger font sizes for headings (at least 2 to 4 points larger than the text). This enables users to quickly scan and  locate what they need. Include extra space before the heading rather than after. This enables readers to readily understand that the information that follows the heading as associated with it. Varying the size and type of font can also keep the user’s interest. Using bold and italics can assist in reinforcing important information.


Layout – The White Space

The more “white space” there is on a page, the easier it is to read. There is less strain on the eye and titles/headings stand out more clearly.

There is a method of formatting referred to as “information mapping.”  The content is organized in two columns. The titles are arranged on the left side of the page for easy scanning. The content/explanation is located on the right side across from the title. The key to the success of this layout method is to create headings that describe the content, like “How to fix a leaky faucet.” Visit their website for additional information: www.infomap.com.

When providing an overview of a warehouse receiving system, for example, the titles along the left might be: Introduction, Definition of Receiving, Importance of Receiving.


Alternative Delivery Method

There are several delivery methods for your operations manual to consider: via CD, Intranet, paper, and/or job aids.

Technology is rapidly changing the way we do business. Many forward-thinking franchisors provide their franchisees with an electronic operations manual via a CD, or the company’s intranet. Electronic delivery methods save time and money. Time - because instead of waiting until the next manual publication, a process or procedure change can be immediately communicated. Money is saved, because providing the manuals via CD or significantly reduces the printing and/or mailing costs.

An electronic operations manual, however, requires different text-organization methods than paper-based manuals. The power of electronic manuals is in their ability to link information that is relevant and useful via hyperlinks. Users who need additional detail on a topic can be linked to more information.

In the near future an operations manual will be on a PDAs, enabling field personnel or employees to easily reference a section no matter where they are. Digital video can accompany equipment manual sections helping to identify a more complicated cleaning and maintenance procedure.
While you are revitalizing the content of your operations manual, make note of those areas where these future applications may be useful for your business. When you are ready to move into this new technology, some of the content will already be identified.

Another very powerful and inexpensive delivery method is a “job aid.” They are essential for key procedures or hard-to-remember information and are usually presented on a laminated sheet of paper. Users can put them in their pockets, next to the telephone or computer, or above their work station for easy access. Job aids also provide for multi-language presentation by having  English text on one side and additional language translations on the  backside.


In Summary

Whether you are a new or experienced franchisor, there are some simple and easy ways to revitalize your operations manual and training.

  • Identify your key processes and procedures first, so that you have the necessary content for the revitalization. (Consider meeting with your Franchisee Advisory Committee to help in this and capture “Best Practices”)
  • Incorporate training into your operations manual. Use scenarios, case studies, and worksheets to create an interactive operations manual.
  • Develop a “trainer’s” version of the operations manual which would guide the trainer to a more successful training session using “Tips and Examples”.
  • Edit your existing manuals to create:
    • More white space
    • Bulleted and numbered lists instead of text paragraphs
    • Icons and/or graphics
    • Boxes, tables, flow charts
    • Simple sentences. Remove extraneous words that hold no value.
    • Descriptive headings
    • Interesting font styles and size
    • Layouts that are easy to scan
  • Use multiple delivery methods

By applying some of these methods to your operations manual, your business, your franchisees and their employees will also be revitalized. You may even improve franchise sales.



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