For years, we have promoted the benefits and advantages of policy manuals/employee handbooks, comprehensive job descriptions and good human resources documentation.
The same goes for standard operating procedures (SOPs), whether written or digital. In fact, SOPs are a great addition and must absolutely be part of your people management process.
Unlike policies, which are guiding principles used to set the direction of an organization, SOPs detail the series of steps to be followed as a consistent, repeatable approach to accomplishing tasks. SOPs increase performance, improve efficiency, reduce confusion, and ensure quality service delivery.
SOPs first identify and summarize a task, describe its purpose, and specify when, where, how, and by whom it should be performed, while simultaneously defining uncommon or specialized terms and addressing potential concerns (e.g., equipment or necessary supplies, health and safety instructions, etc.). SOPs outline the sequential procedures to be followed, often using checklists and graphic illustrations (e.g. charts, tables, photographs, diagrams, etc.) to help ensure procedures are performed accurately and speed.
Today, SOPs are especially important in our persistent post-pandemic tense work environment. In digital form, they provide a virtual way to effectively onboard and train new employees, even those with little or no experience. As such, SOPs are an effective means of develop the talent, knowledge and expertise you need to succeed. And, like it or not, talent development is now a consequence, a need and a responsibility of employers.
Additional Benefits of SOPs
- Reduced training time for new recruits
- Better communication with employees on how to complete their tasks
- Consistency in the execution of tasks
- Empower employees
- Ensure compliance with safety standards
- Avoid loss of knowledge when transferring tasks from one employee to another or in the event of turnover
- Easier integration of new employees at new sites
- Quality Control: Meticulously followed SOPs ensure your services are delivered the same way from start to finish, consistently
Implementing Your Own SOPs: Five Steps
To begin the process of creating your own SOPs, start with make a list of the tasks of your employees. You might want to talk to your employees about it and get a better understanding of what they do on a daily basis.
Second, decide on the format you will use to write the SOP. The format can depend on the content, for example, a flowchart or step-by-step instructions.
Third, request entry to ensure that the SOP makes sense to those who will join it, as well as encompasses all required tasks.
Fourth, identify your audience. What is their prior knowledge? What are their language skills? Are they existing employees and/or new employees?
Fifth, write the POS. According to a document on the preparation of standard operating procedures (by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)),1 SOPs “should be written in a concise, step-by-step, easy-to-read format. The information presented should be unambiguous and not overly complicated. You must use the active voice and the present of the verb. The term “you” should not be used, but implied. The document should not be wordy, redundant or too long. Keep it simple and short. Information should be conveyed clearly and explicitly to remove any doubt as to what is required. Also use a flowchart to illustrate the process described. Also, follow the style guide used by your organization, for example, font size and margins. »
This document goes on to say, “SOPs should be written in sufficient detail that someone with limited experience or knowledge of the procedure, but with a basic understanding, can successfully reproduce the procedure without supervision. The experience requirement for performing an activity should be noted in the staff qualifications section.
Finally, review, test, modify, and rehearse after writing your SOP document at least every six to 12 months (or as needed) to identify areas where it can be improved and to reflect any changes to current procedures. By all means, commit to keeping your SOPs up to date – they won’t do you any good if they aren’t kept up to date.
- Guidance for Preparing Standard Operating Procedures, EPA QA/G-6 March 2001. Environmental Protection Agency. Updated May 25, 2021. https://www.epa.gov/quality/guidance-preparing-standard-operating-procedures-epa-qag-6-march-2001