Best for NYC: Best Practices 

by Don Friedman on February 2, 2016

When I was working on the B Impact Assessment to get Old Structures certified as a B Corp. I was interested to see an emphasis on having things written down. Three questions explicitly asked if we had policies in writing and a number of others asked whether we had “formal” policies, which pretty much has to mean “in writing.”

The short answer is that we generally do, and are increasing our reliance on written documentation. We have an office manual that covers a number of disparate topics – general office procedures, structural engineering software, document style, emergency evacuation, drafting, and so on – and is therefore broken into several sections. The introduction to each section discusses our general philosophy before diving into the rather boring specifics.

The good news about having an extensive manual is that provides a baseline for consistency. Whether the issue is performance reviews or the logistics of on-site investigation, we benefit from a consistent approach. In terms of people, consistency is more fair; in terms of work, consistency helps highlight if we’re about to make a mistake. The big problem with a written manual is that it seems more authoritative than it is. Most of the policies are simply those decided upon by our firm’s management and can be changed if the direction of the firm changes. To use an almost-trivial example, we changed our standard document fonts about a year ago, and this had to be reflected in our document templates and therefore the style section of our manual. A much more serious example is that our manual had to be updated when we changed to a better health-care plan two years ago. Even those portions of the manual where we simply report procedures enforced by government agencies are subject to change if public policy changes.

So our manual is authoritative but can change. Just like everything and everyone else. Fortunately, in a small office, when questions come up we can simply discuss them as a group and change the manual as necessary to better reflect our policies. It’s a living document that represents how we feel our firm should operate and incorporates the policies that we feel best represent the goals of the Best for NYC Challenge.

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