Most people associate Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) with highly specialized or regimented organizations, such as hospitals, research facilities, government agencies, or the military. However, these are not just for complex organizations, and are highly valuable for even minor areas and tasks (Biologic Technical Applications, 2012). To help you create and apply SOPs to your organization, our strategic planning agency in Minneapolis is sharing the steps on getting started.
What Are Standard Operating Procedures?
First, let’s look at what precisely an SOP is. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines it as “a set of written and detailed instructions that document a routine or repetitive activity followed by an organization to achieve uniformity of the performance of a specific function (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2007).” Basically, it’s a step-by-step guide on how to perform a task or activity so that everyone within the organization is completing the task in the same manner, and it’s written in a way that even someone unfamiliar with the task will be able to complete it.
In addition to being a type of training guide, an SOP is meant to be a direct communication to ensure compliance, accountability, and efficiency (Sajdak et. al. 2013). For every task at your business, an SOP can be written, including:
- Completing payroll;
- Sending invoices to clients;
- Shipping and receiving orders;
- Onboarding new clients;
- Onboarding a new employee;
- Completing an annual evaluation with an employee;
Why Are Standard Operating Procedures Necessary for Your Organization?
SOPs are used in regulated industries to ensure and demonstrate compliance. It may seem unnecessary to have an SOP for the day-to-day operations and tasks of your business, but consider the benefits to having them.
When everyone within an organization is completing a task in the same manner there is consistency in the outcome. Whether the SOP is designed to ensure quality control, fairness with employees, or provide the same level of service to every client, everyone within the organization will know how to perform the task in the same manner and also what to expect from the outcome.
In an organization where team members are performing the same task in different ways, training becomes more difficult, and often the new employee becomes confused, overwhelmed, and frustrated. When there is a standard method, it doesn’t matter who is over training, the new employee will learn the correct way to perform the task and will also have a reference to follow when they are working alone. This allows the training period to go more smoothly and quickly while helping the new employee feel more confident and comfortable in their role.
Transfer of Knowledge
One of the greatest challenges an organization faces is replacing an experienced, long-term employee, regardless of what role they’re in because the organization loses the knowledge and skill that person had developed. As a new person takes over that role, the organization may struggle. However, when there is an SOP for the tasks involved in that role, it facilitates a transfer of knowledge that smooths the transition for both the employee and the organization.
Update and Improve Operations
When everyone is completing a task in the same way, it’s easier for management to determine where there are problems in the process and how to improve them. As a new standard of operations is adopted for the task, the team learns the updated methods and is properly trained, improving efficiency across the board.
How to Create a Standard Operating Procedure for Your Organization
For most organizations, an SOP will be a fairly straightforward, step-by-step guide, and most will have the same template:
- Introduction to the task to describe why it is important and what the outcome will be;
- A sequence of steps to achieve the outcome;
- Any references, definitions, or contacts with concerns or problems.
As you write your SOP for a task, ensure success with these tips:
Assume Unfamiliarity of the Task
A Standard Operating Procedure should be written in such a way that the intended audience will be able to understand and follow the task. You’ll want to use very specific language and eliminate ambiguity. Imagine an employee on their first day attempting to read and follow the SOP – Would they be able to do so with minimal help?
As this is a more technical document, you want to provide clear, plain instructions and avoid causing confusion through jargon. If you do have to include it because it’s an industry standard, provide a definition.
Break Sections into Small Steps
Avoid overwhelming the reader by breaking the task down into small steps, using short paragraphs when necessary and relying on numbered lists or bullet points when possible. This makes the SOP easy to read and follow.
Provide Visual Examples
If possible, provide visual examples of the steps. For example, if the SOP is related to completing payroll, add screenshots of the software being used so the reader can relate more easily to the instruction.
Get Team Members Involved
From drafting to testing the SOP, you’ll want to get members of your team involved in creating it. This will help you find blind spots, improve efficiencies, and gain valuable insight into the task from people with a different background and experience.
Test the Standard Operating Procedure
Before rolling out the SOP, make sure it’s tested thoroughly. We’d recommend having people both experienced and inexperienced in the task work through it to ensure no steps were missed and the instructions are clear.
Schedule a Consultation for Strategic Planning with Woodland Strategies
While your SOP will tell you how to complete tasks, you may be finding challenges in other areas of your business or organization. For strategic planning assistance in scaling your business, implementing new operations, and other challenges, reach out to Woodland Strategies, a leading strategic planning agency in the Minneapolis metro area by filling out the contact form below.