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Writing Policies and Procedures Manuals Started as a Way to Prevent Trainwrecks


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Did you ever wonder who started writing policies and procedures manuals and why? Well in America at least, it seems the railroads started writing policies and procedures as a way to prevent trainwrecks. That’s what scholar JoAnne Yates discovered in her book Control Through Communication: The Rise of System in American Management.
Yates examined the history behind the growth of systematic management in American business. Starting in the 1890s, the railroads and later manufacturing firms “sought to achieve better control of business processes and outcomes by imposing system through controlled communication.” (xvii). In seeking ways of improving safety and efficiency, these industries pioneered the practice of writing policies and procedures down and sharing standard best practices. No one had done that before! By creating standard operating policies and procedures and distributing them to all employees, the companies could better coordinate and standardize their operations–and thus prevent major problems (aka trainwrecks) as their operations grew increasingly complex and geographically spread out.
Companies need standardized operations and clear policies and procedures as much today as they did back in the 19th and 20th centuries. The technology has sure changed, but the core needs have not. Good systems clearly communicated is still the key to operations success and avoiding business “trainwrecks.”

So even if you aren’t a history buff or management guru and don’t have time to peruse Yates book, you can haul this piece of trivia out at the next Happy Hour, or anytime someone questions the value of written policy and procedure manuals.
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