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What are SOPs, and why does my organization need them?

People are creatures of habit. We crave predictability and thrive in repetitive environments. We find things like national chains so appealing because we know exactly what to expect from them. Their products and services are consistent, no matter which branch you are visiting. One of the key reasons for this consistency is the use of SOPs (short for standard operating procedure)

The use of standard operating procedures made a company like McDonald’s the behemoth it is today, so there must be something to them.

What matters to your organization?

In the workplace, predictability in the little things allows us to focus our energy on the things that really matter—the product or service we provide. Everyone from entry-level employees to government regulators benefit from well-documented criteria for performance. 

Once you understand the different ways standard operating procedures can help your business function and grow more efficiently, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them.

What is a Standard Operating Procedure?

The standard operating procedure definition is a pretty straightforward one. An SOP (standard operating procedure) is a set of step-by-step instructions for completing business procedures. They ensure that the desired end result of each process is completed the same way, every time. 

Whenever a team member begins a task, the corresponding SOP gives them the tools to ensure that each step is followed accurately and efficiently. This leads to better quality control, increased safety, and a host of other advantages. In fact, creating a standard operating procedures manual can deliver more benefits than you may imagine. 

Let’s take a look at why nearly every company that makes a splash does so with the help of SOPs.

Benefits of Adopting SOPs

The idea of putting together a standard operating procedure checklist may sound overwhelming, but the positive ripple effects can be felt across the board, so it is time well spent. 

When it comes to getting new hires up to speed, teaching new skills, delegating things off your plate, and making sure everything gets done consistently and efficiently, SOPs are your best friend.

Well, thought-out SOPs can also create happier workers and even lead to customer retention and business growth. Those last two alone should be enough of a driver for any business owner. 

Facilitating Growth through Efficiencies

Implementing standard operating procedures improves employee performance in many ways. Knowing exactly how to handle each of our daily tasks means we can get more done. A well-written procedures manual reduces the amount of time wasted by thinking about how to best complete tasks. 

It also means you can expand the number of procedures employees can complete, freeing up management to focus on business growth. 

Armed with the knowledge that any employee can effectively make things happen, management is able to feel comfortable loading the cart, knowing their team is up to the task. 

Learning how SOPs can be useful for business growth gives you great tools for planning for your company’s future.

Smooth Transitions

Part of owning a business is that people come and go. But these transitions shouldn’t send your business to a grinding halt or even a detour. They should be pretty seamless (even when people decide to move on unexpectedly). 

When someone leaves, they shouldn’t be the only one who knows what they know. It should already be documented in an SOP. That way, when they walk out the door, your ability to operate doesn’t go with them. Plus, this way, anyone can pick up the slack while you work on finding a top-notch replacement. When you find the right candidate, you can easily plug them into how your practice does things. Just hand off the SOPs at the end of their onboarding, and they should be good to go! Training can be that easy if your SOPs are comprehensive and expertly prepared.

Improving Productivity and Onboarding Time

Your business begins and ends with the people who work there. Keeping your work family happy is a crucial step toward keeping your customers happy. If you know a handful of people who regularly vent about how their coworkers don’t know what they’re doing, you’re getting a firsthand glimpse at the importance standard operating procedures can play in keeping your team on the same page.

Creating standard operating procedures removes this stressor from the lives of your employees. You don’t have a dozen people doing things a dozen different ways. You don’t have people getting irked at the way someone else is doing something. Each employee is a member of the team, and this is how the team does things.

Clear expectations

Not only do SOPs ensure that everyone knows how to handle the day-to-day tasks they are faced with, but it gives you a great starting point when identifying and rectifying problems within the system. If someone drops the ball, you can easily identify where things went awry and fix it. Putting the process in writing also helps you identify steps that may be missing and extraneous steps that could be taken out.

Providing workers with a clear idea of what is expected of them is an excellent way of showing all your employees that you want them to succeed. When onboarding new employees, an SOPs manual is invaluable in quickly and correctly familiarizing them with their new position. 

Improving Quality Control

Ensuring that all employees perform procedures in the same way does wonders for your product or service quality. A good SOP should result in consistently high quality. If team members follow the SOP and the quality isn’t there, it’s much easier for you to see what’s wrong with the recipe.

Clients who routinely receive quality service are happy to come back. In fact, they’ll probably tell their friends. If the quality varies often, they may pass along that info too. Delivering consistent quality is the easiest way to retain existing customers and clients. As that word spreads, you’ll also become much more attractive to new customers.

Ensuring Compliance

Sometimes delivering consistent quality can be a matter of life and death. Certain industries like medical and transportation require standard operating procedures to be followed for product safety. Simple mistakes can result in people getting hurt, so it’s especially important that things are done correctly.

These industries often face oversight and audits to ensure compliance. Having well-defined SOPs shows the governing entities in your industry that your business takes compliance and safety issues seriously. It also gives you a paper trail that can protect you from possible litigation should a mistake happen and an issue arises.

Overall Company Value

One of the often-overlooked benefits of having a strong, well-written standard operating procedures manual is the increase in value it brings to the business as a whole. Take, for example, if you want to retire. The value of the company has been shown to be worth more if someone can purchase the company with a strong set of documented operational procedures. The business becomes more attractive when it is no longer dependent on any individual, including the owner. 

A potential buyer does not need to guess how the company operates. They can simply pull back the curtain and get a comprehensive and transparent view of the entire business.

How to create SOPs for your company

Most of us have made a purchase where assembly is required before the product can be used. The instructions accompanying the purchased item are supposed to show you step-by-step how to assemble the product. Some of these instruction manuals are incredibly frustrating because they lack the detail and simplicity to show the user exactly what to do. On the other hand, if you open a box of legos, the instructions are so detailed and clear that it makes putting together the product so simple that kids can do it. When writing standard operating procedures, the goal is to be so detailed and clear that basically anyone could follow them and accomplish the task.

Now, to get to that level of detail takes significant time and energy and typically requires a professional services company to complete. Simply getting started on the other hand, shouldn’t be that difficult. 

Identify One Team Member to Start

You and your team already know the jobs you are performing every day so the first step toward developing standard operating procedure guidelines for your company is to start with one team member. Task that team member to start documenting the things they do every day. This broad overview creates a flowchart. It takes each task or job and moves throughout the day for each team member and process they perform (from a high level).

The next step is to use the flowchart and dive deep into the nitty-gritty details. A set of instructions is then created to show the step-by-step routine that is being accomplished through documenting the details.

Once you go through each team member, including yourself, you will have the foundation for your standard operating procedure manual.

There are many standard operating procedure examples available on the web, and you could potentially use them as templates to get started. We’ve got a number of SOP downloads available if you’d like a little more direction. 

Train employees on following SOPs

At the end of the day, standard operating procedures only provide real value when they are followed. If you want your employees to adhere to the SOPs, you need to make sure they are clearly laid out and your employees fully understand them. 

Standard operating procedures should be a kind of living document, updated whenever the need arises. Any time you make amendments to your SOPs, make sure to give your employees a refresher. At least once a month, ask your team what can be documented to be made into an SOP that doesn’t already exist.

Not only will this allow them to understand the new changes fully, but it’s a good reminder of the procedures that haven’t changed.

Multimedia approach

Showing tends to be a more effective communication device than telling. Creating a standard operating procedure film and including pictures in your SOPs are always good options. If you make your training video available via a streaming service, workers would then be able to access videos that accompany and compliment the SOP. 

Rather than pulling a senior team member away from what they are doing to clarify, each worker can quickly pull up a video that walks them through exactly what they need to do.

Enlist help

Keep in mind a standard operating procedure template will only get you so far. If the wording in your retooled document is hard to follow, the SOP may cause more confusion than clarity. 

Learning how to write a standard operating procedure comes through time and experience, so it’s great to enlist some qualified help.

Getting Started

Knowing what standard operating procedures are and how they can help your business is the first step toward creating an office full of empowered employees who feel confident in their actions. You’ve probably got a handful of checklists crowding your mind right now. Once you dig into the easy stuff, the benefits will drive you to dig deeper. 

Don’t worry, you’ll be glad you did.

Want to talk more about SOPs? Shoot us a message at [email protected]!