Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s)
Standard Operating Procedures, also known as SOP’s, are standard measures of prevention, and are great training tools for new staff. They are commonly used as a set of written documents or instructions to describe step by step processes which must be taken to ensure that your products, services or routine tasks / activities are performed properly and delivered consistently every time.
Workplace Health & Safety is a crucial element for most businesses and we find it is also something that many small businesses are just not prepared for, especially when starting to hire staff. Hazards within the workplace like equipment and machinery can pose a risk within the workplace and it is the business owners responsibility to reduce these as far as possible. This is where Standard Operating Procedures can become highly valuable resources for you and your team.
Before we delve into the details of SOP’s, we want to look at your “Systems Hierarchy” and understand where all the crucial elements fit in. This will allow for you to break down your SOP’s with ease and support you and your team to have a clearer understanding of how they should function.
Policies are the rules for your business and sit at the very top of your Systems Hierarchy. For example, You may have a policy to provide the boundaries in place when staff are using social media during work time. Alternatively, you may have a policy in place which provides the boundaries around how staff should be dealing with your clients and presenting themselves in a professional manner in different environments (Office Vs Networking events etc).
Procedures are next and in simple terms are the documents to instruct “how you do business”. For example;
- How do you post on social media
- How do you have the conversation and engage with your clients
- How do you create your product which you are selling etc.
Below your procedures sit all of your businesses functional documents which help you do things within your business. These may include your registers, forms (Onboarding and offboarding staff / clients) and checklists (These may sit in your project management platform to help make sure that everything is being achieved where and when it needs to be done).
What is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?
An SOP is a set of DOCUMENTED step-by-step instructions compiled by a business to help staff carry out routine operations. Each businesses SOP’s will differ depending on what your business does, when, where and how. Their importance lies in knowing that if something were to happen to you or another person within your business, someone will be able to step in and do that task, job or responsibility. When we ask business owners if this is the case in their business, more often than not their answer is “No”, and this is how you know that your SOP’s are not quite up to scratch. If you find yourself in this position, that’s ok, don’t beat yourself up, we all have to start somewhere and we know just how challenging it is to juggle E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G in your business. At some point in business, owners are running everything from their head, busy working “IN” the business”, rather than working “ON” the business”. However, if you want your business to grow and if you want staff to come on board, you will get to a point where you are going to need policies to provide boundaries and SOP’s to provide guidance. To get everything out of your head, set staff up for success and your business up for growth.
What value do SOP’s bring to your business?
No matter how you present an SOP we can guarantee you, it will bring value to your business. Essentially an SOP should provide efficiency to a task as you’re not having to stop and think about whether you did or didn’t do the task, whether you did it correctly or whether you did it at the appropriate time. The SOP should outline all of this so it’s merely a matter of ticking a box and seeing that the completed task aligns with the stipulated instructions. At the end of the day, it should provide a quality and uniform output. This will ensure that no matter who is conducting the task within the business, your clients are guaranteed to receive the same product / service every single time. The most prominent example we can give you of a company who does this well is McDonald’s. No matter the country, no matter the language, McDonald’s is the same everywhere worldwide. It looks the same, it’s marketed the same, and it’s produced the same. A cheese burger is a cheese burger no matter where you go, and as a McDonald’s consumer you know what to expect every single time. This allows for the quality and the uniformity of the performance within your business to be showcased to your consumers. Your SOP also has the potential to play an integral role in your branding and marketing. If McDonalds were to have a bad burger at one of their branches and the customer were to complain publicly on social media, this would negatively hamper McDonald’s image. Unfortunately bad public relations is still PR.
SOP’s help to reduce miscommunication and mistakes. New staff and interns have a clear set of guidelines to refer back to whenever they need assistance. SOP’s might also stipulate legislation that your industry is aligned with so it’ll help you, your staff and your business to be compliant and abide by the law.
Lastly, an SOP can be crucial when it comes to your exit strategy. Whether it be you handing over the business to a partner, giving it to your children or selling it, you need to have your brain downloaded and documented. If you create standard operating procedures as you go, even one per week you will end up with an amazing library of content and an asset for your business.
How do you implement SOP’s into your business?
What do they look like? How do they feel? When do you use them?
As we’ve discussed as a business owner you are busy! Sometimes it may be easier to record your SOP’s in video format and transfer to a written format at a later date. Remember done is better than perfect. It isn’t necessarily going to your client, it’s going to your staff. As long as it’s recorded and the steps that you need to show are clear and concise, it is sufficient. A tool such as Loom video recorder is great for this, it is also a cheap and easy way of storing it. As long as your video or SOP is easy to access and will be there after you part with the business.
Pro tip when recording your video
- Do NOT record one long video.
- Record multiple 2 – 5 minute videos.
- If your processes and procedures change down the line, you will only have to change one or two videos rather than a whole 2 – 3 hour video.
- It is easier for staff to watch multiple videos rather than one long one, in terms of concentration and learning.
Whilst recording a video is quick and easy, remember that everyone learns differently, so a written SOP is just as important. It’s a great exercise to get interns to create the written version from the recorded version of an SOP template as it helps them learn the process and embed it in their brains for when it is time for them to put it into practice.
When saving your SOP’s ensure you have a naming convention, code or easy way to locate your video / document. Each one needs to be able to be differentiated from the other. Naming conventions are crucial in ensuring you don’t lose your documents, but in addition, they may help you get ISO qualified if / when you go down that road.
When creating an SOP for implementation into your business, it’s important to remember:
- Be Strategic – Put a plan in place, without a long term strategic plan, how can you and your team understand how the SOP fits in the grand scheme of things?
- The Why – If your staff have a better understanding of why they need to do certain things, they are usually more invested in it.
- Overview – As business owners, we have the big picture in mind, but we need to remember that our staff don’t and for them to be successful in their roles, we need to guide them as much as possible with overviews.
- Main Goals – You cannot give the final strategy and not the processes which help your staff get there.
Systems for your SOP’s
A system for your SOP is essentially where you store them so that your key stakeholders (internal staff, interns, graduates, contractors, clients etc) have access to them whenever they need. Some options we recommend include:
- Word – This is always a good starting point but not ideal for an end strategy.
- Google Sites – This is a great tool because it is an intranet style platform and a feature of your Google Account if you are already a user. You choose who to share it with (Similar to docs, sheets etc), video and written processes can be presented side by side and you can add links, pictures, calendars etc. the option are endless!
- Microsoft SharePoint – If you are a Microsoft user this is the way to go. Similar to Google Sites, you can build it to function like an intranet style platform which is permission based, via links.
- Sweet Process – If you want to get real fancy, this digital tool takes your SOp’s to the next level. You have the ability to sign off approvals and set review dates so they are never forgotten. It is permission based and allows you to manage your entire library for access to even the most confidential SOP’s and information.
Ensuring you have a SOP’s in your business is guaranteed to bring you value. Even if you try and “fail” what is the worst that could happen? Although after reading all the benefits we’ve mentioned, we’re hoping you can see the chances of an SOP failing in your business are minimal.
As a business owner we understand that you are busy. That is why we advise you to record video SOP’s. This helps with time management and also ease of reference for your employees and easy rewatching.
When creating an SOP for implementation into your business, it’s important to remember the why, the overview, your main goals, and to ensure you are strategic along the way. Also note there are heaps of systems, such as Word and Sweet Process to help you ease in with your SOP’s.
If you’d like an SOP template to help make starting easier and ensure your documents are streamlined and consistent, click here to grab a copy.