Standard operating procedures are somewhat of an instruction manual for how a business should run. Few question the value of SOPs in the business world, but little emphasis is given to handling these essential guides. Since SOPs impact virtually every business activity, SOP management is crucial for a company to stay on top of its game.
So, What Are SOPs?
Standard operating procedures, or SOPs, are a set of clear and direct instructions created by an organization. These instructions are aimed to assist employees by offering guidance on the best way to go about their day-to-day business processes. Ideally, SOPs help both employees and the business as a whole operate more efficiently, complete tasks more consistently, and reduce error.
Benefits of SOPs
Nothing makes the skin crawl like losing money or clients to an easily avoidable mistake. While no one’s claiming that SOPs will entirely eliminate errors, these mistakes tend to occur much fewer and further between with SOP management.
A business is – or at least it should be – a team, and you want everyone on your team following the same playbook. SOP management ensures that every member of an organization is on the same page and their efforts come together cohesively. Even the most basic activities, when done at random, can cause confusion and disorder. Imagine a straightforward procedure, such as restocking the office supplies. If it’s up to the individual employee to choose how they go about stocking, the office will look drastically different depending on who’s doing the stocking. This isn’t a problem on the surface, but when no one knows where anything is, people end up using their time searching for pens instead of getting any meaningful work done.
Ensures Everyone Follows Best Practices
There are often alternative ways to go about a business practice; while those methods may lead to the same end goal, they aren’t always the best use of resources. SOPs should lay out the best possible way to complete a task, ensuring that every team member is making the most of their time and energy.
Best practices have been inspected through rigorous testing and a good deal of trial and error – proving that they really are the most effective way to carry out tasks. When every employee follows these best practices, you can rest assured that your business is maximizing its potential – in time, resources, and energy.
SOPs Prevent Slops
Following best practices inherently protects against mishaps, and in the unfortunate instance when they do occur, SOPs make them easier to find. If everyone is going about business all willy nilly, it can be nearly impossible to pinpoint the root of an issue. However, when everyone uses the same process, you can usually identify the step in which an error occurred.
No matter what, it will take time to reorient to a new role or workplace, but SOPs can help smooth the learning curve. In a perfect world, you would have a SOP for every aspect of a job, enabling new employees to learn the ropes more readily. SOPs also make life a little easier on the manager’s end; they have all of the resources and instructions necessary for onboarding and a standard operating procedure detailing how to do so.
Elevate Your Business Practices With SOP Management
Creating the SOP
Before you can start making SOPs, you need a solid understanding of your business processes. It can help map out every duty that each department is tasked with, write down the best way to complete that duty, and take note of anything that could get in the way of that task being completed efficiently. Once you’ve determined which processes need a standard operating procedure, the fun part begins: creating the SOP. Standard operating procedures can come in many forms, such as a flowchart, a simple checklist, or a list of steps. Regardless of which form you choose, you’ll want to include the following:
Part One: Title, Author, & Date
The title should be detailed enough that everyone seeing it knows which process you are outlining. You will also want to include the name(s) of the individual(s) who created the SOP and the date it was written. This information will be essential down the line; it shows who is responsible and provides an exact date so you can conduct regular SOP reviews.
Part Two: Who
This section will show who the procedure applies to, whether that be the entire company, a department, a subset of a department, or a handful of individuals.
Part Three: Purpose & Goals
People tend to be more driven when they understand why they are doing something, so you want to include the SOP’s purpose and goals. This section explains why employees should follow the process: what problems it solves, why it is best, and if it relates to any regulatory requirements.
Part Four: Definitions
To keep your SOP short and sweet, you may want to utilize acronyms and abbreviations. This is a great way to make boring documents a little more digestible, but not if people can’t understand the jargon. To guarantee that they do, make sure to include definitions of the shorthand you use so that there isn’t any misunderstanding.
Part Five: Instructions
The instructions are the heart of a SOP, and they’ll require an excellent understanding of the business process at hand. Here, you will describe the route employees should take in a business operation, laying out specific instructions for every task. If you notice a larger than expected number of errors in a particular step, you can add notes on what to do in the situations causing the unwanted mishaps.
Part Six: Tools
Not every SOP will require a section on equipment, but for those that do, this section should cover what tools to use, how to use them, and any other practices the company has in place around equipment (such as storage, settings, maintenance, etc.)
Part Seven: Safety
For standard operating procedures around accounting, for instance, you may not need a section on safety. However, if there is any chance an employee may be at risk following your SOP, a safety section is an absolute necessity. This section explains every possible health and safety hazard associated with the task, including risks related to not following the SOP. As employees’ safety should be the top priority, this section needs to be impossible to miss (or misunderstand) – no one wants to endanger their employees, and no one wants a lawsuit against them.
Part Eight: Weaknesses
While SOPs can prevent the vast majority of mishaps, nothing can stop them 100% of the time. In this section, consider all possible ways the SOP could fail to achieve the goal at hand. If there are some weaknesses in the procedure you know will pop up eventually, it can be beneficial to provide some if/then statements so employees know how to deal with unexpected challenges.
SOP Review and Approval
There are several reasons why a seemingly perfect SOP may need tweaking – so before a standard operating procedure is truly complete, you’ll need to test it. Even if the approach makes sense to the department using it, it may not be clear enough in the long-run. New employees won’t have the same experience with these procedures as current employees do, meaning a SOP that makes perfect sense to you could look like gibberish to newer onboards.
One way to safeguard against ill-defined standard operating procedures is by having people outside of that area of expertise test them. If someone with no knowledge of a particular business process can complete it according to the SOP without a hitch, then you know the instructions are clear.
Once the procedure is ready to be put in action, the next step in SOP management is distribution. ComplianceBridge offers targeted distribution so you can send the SOP to the exact people who need it; with this, you don’t have to flood the inboxes of every department with irrelevant material.
ComplianceBridge also records who has read, tested, and signed documents. Your standard operating procedure is only effective if people actually use it; with proof of due diligence, you can ensure that they do.
You may not need to train employees for simple procedures or those that don’t deviate from what people typically do. However, if it could go either way, you probably should host a training just to be safe. Trainings help make sure everyone understands the procedure, when to use it, and how. If you notice employees are having difficulty with a step or are unclear on some of the jargon, it could be a sign that the SOP needs more work.
Ongoing SOP Management
As your business grows and technology evolves, your SOPs may become outdated. To ensure your processes are as current as possible, it can be beneficial to review your standard operating procedures regularly. ComplianceBridge offers built-in review dates, expiration dates, and reminders, so your SOPs never get left in the dust.
Archival in a Central Location
The last piece of SOP management, though equally important, is archiving your documents in a centralized location. Storing old versions of your SOPs is crucial for making smart business decisions since they allow you to look back on what worked and what didn’t. With ComplianceBridge, you can store every version of your procedures, showing the current version as a default. Since our platform allows you to access these forms via the internet, you’re always able to find them – whether it be on a phone, computer, or tablet.
SOP Management Made Easy With ComplianceBridge
TotalCompliance by ComplianceBridge has everything you need to streamline the creation, revision, and distribution of your SOPs. With our automatic reminders, you’ll never forget to review a procedure, and since you can see who has viewed a form, you can guarantee that the people who need to see it do.
Ready to get your time back and cut through the clutter? Request a demo today! We look forward to working with you.