Would you fly on a plane knowing that the maintenance crew and pilots were “sort of” trained, didn’t use checklists, and were allowed to do things whatever way they wanted?
Would you want a surgeon operating on you who was “told” how to operate by someone a few years back, but didn’t have a clear procedure in mind before you went under the knife?
Yet in many organizations, this is exactly the type of thing that happens every day, with results that range from inefficiency and lost profit, to injury and death.
Recently, I’ve been working with several organizations that either totally lack Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) or completely ignore existing ones because they’re outdated. I’m getting a lot of “push back” when I suggest that SOPs and checklists are essential to the successful operation of these organizations. I hear things like, “I’ve told my people what to do,” or “they’ve already been trained.” When asked why things are still not working smoothly, the answer is usually some version of, “I’ll remind them,” and the assumption is that the problem is resolved. However, when you have to repeatedly remind people what to do, or you think your employees are trained, but they’re still not doing things correctly, there’s a problem, and the first step in resolving it is creating SOPs. Here’s why:
SOPs are what smart organizations use to create consistency in how processes and tasks are performed. They consist of clearly documented, step-by-step procedures and checklists that are easy for employees to follow and greatly reduce the chances of mistakes. When mistakes occur, they give managers a REAL basis for redirecting or disciplining an employee because there’s little room for an employee to say, “That’s not how Bob told me to do it,” or “I didn’t know I was supposed to do that.”
Although many people bristle at the thought of “standardization”, creating a set of SOPs for your organization may be one of the most important communication tools you can employ. Need more motivation to write your SOPs? Here are eight reasons why you probably need them:
1. They facilitate communication
Well written SOPs clearly communicate responsibilities to employees. They don’t have to rely on their memories, or all the things they learned in their training when first hired.
2. They provide consistency and quality control
SOPs ensure that no matter what day it is or who is working, the tasks that keep your organization running effectively will be done the way you want them done. They don’t hamstring employees or turn them into robots. Rather they provide security because each employee knows what’s expected of him or her, rather than guessing what needs to be done daily.
3. They help increase productivity
People who have had clear communication about what’s expected of them are more productive and more likely to achieve peak performance. SOPs also increase productivity for managers by saving them time “retraining” employees or reminding them of what needs to be done on a daily basis.
4. They facilitate cross training
Many organizations have “key players” who are the only employees who normally perform certain tasks. SOPs allow other employees to fill in and complete tasks they don’t normally perform if those key players are on vacation or out sick.
5. They’re essential to the employee performance evaluation process
How can you hold employees accountable for tasks and processes that aren’t documented? Without SOPs, job performance often becomes a matter of opinion. With SOPs, managers can clearly identify employee successes and communicate deficiencies during quarterly or annual performance reviews. When it comes time to discipline or terminate an employee, clearly defined tasks, as opposed to broad job descriptions, give managers the ability to justify their disciplinary or termination actions.
6. They support peer accountability and coaching
When SOPs are clearly documented, employees can help and coach each other when learning new processes, rather than relying on a manager to do so. They also give employees the opportunity (and grounds) to correct/redirect their peers when tasks aren’t being performed correctly.
7. They help create a safer work environment
Clearly written SOPs, along with proper training, reduce the odds of accidents or injury because tasks are written. They may also reduce legal liability should an incident occur.
8. They provide staff with the motivation to do things RIGHT
Well written SOPs not only clearly outline the HOW of procedures, but also the WHY. When you communicate sound reasons why employees should perform tasks in a certain way, they’re more likely to do so.
Although SOPs may not be fun to write and they’re time-consuming to create at first, the time spent writing them is time well spent when you consider the cost of not having them versus the benefits when you do.
Amy Castro, MA, CSP- is a Performance Communication expert, speaker, author, and blogger of the Performance Communication Blog.