The Power of Consistency: 9 Steps to Create a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)


Part 1

What Is a Standard Operating Procedure?

What does every leader want for their business? The obvious answer would be growth of some kind. However, while many hope for increased revenues, partnerships, and stakeholder engagement, these things do not just fall into place on their own. Many times, it is easy to become caught up in the high-level ideas of business management that leaders forget about the importance of practical policies and procedures. Nothing ever happens without a little forethought and order, and standard operating procedures are a guiding principle that every business should follow. Success cannot occur in an atmosphere of disorder and disorganization. A standard operating procedure (SOP) describes the common practices that happen to produce quality goods or services. Most include predetermined specifications that all methods need to stay within to continue to create desired outcomes for the business. They are a guide to regulated steps that help workers create a safe environment and quality procedures.

Why Are Standard Operating Procedures Important to Business Growth?

SOPs create a sense of security for clients who are working with companies. They let customers know that businesses are dedicated to the quality of their products and place a large emphasis on creating exemplary processes that adhere to preferred specifications. It sets companies up to have a reputation for quality production. Some SOPs adhere to required regulations like those from OSHA, SOX, or FDA; while others seek to follow voluntary best practices set by influencers in the industry. The more that companies can show they are at the top tier of adhering to premium SOPs, the more they will gain the trust of customers.

Well-written SOPs let customers know there is consistency in how products are produced. They know they can expect the same product with the same level of quality, regardless of when or where they order it. If a customer calls in for help with a problem, they should receive the same step-by-step procedure for how to repair it, regardless of who is taking the call. SOPs should create consistency in production, service, and even message. Within the company, it creates a level playing field so that all workers are set up to succeed and produce exemplary work since all procedures and policies are documented. Even if someone leaves the company or someone new is hired, everyone will have the same opportunity to train on the material. This action ensures there are not any gaps in serving customers.

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Part 2
How to Create Standard Operating Procedures That Spur Business Growth

Step 1: Begin Monitoring Problems

  • Where is quality lagging?
  • Are customer satisfaction surveys less than favorable?
  • Are clients departing because products are not meeting specifications?
  • Is marketing messaging off-brand?

This step is where leaders need to start. They should create a core team that encompasses managers from various departments to observe where procedures have gone wrong. This will help leaders to understand where SOPs are needed, and how these improvements will have an impact on customer interactions.

Step 2: Understand the Impact of These Problems

  • How much time is errors costing the company?
  • How much money was lost as a result of faulty procedures?

Understanding the beginning benchmarks allows leaders the opportunity to have something to compare results to after SOPs are implemented. It will also enable leaders to make the case to stakeholders about why an SOP development process is necessary.

Step 3: Create a List of Processes That Need SOPs

After talking with managers of each department and identifying systems that need to be standardized, leaders can begin working with them to develop SOPs.

Step 4: Develop a Template and Flow for SOPs

While each SOP will describe a different process, they all need to be consistent in how they look and flow. The goal is to make these as easy to comprehend and understand as possible. It would make sense to have a combination of narrative text and diagrams to accommodate those who are verbal and visual learners. Every person digests knowledge differently, and SOPs should address this in their composition.

Step 5: Gather as Much Information as Possible

Many times there is already documentation in place for SOPs. It might be incomplete, but it could still offer some helpful material to start with. Leaders also need to begin interviewing people who have the most interaction with the subject matter. A manager may be the authority figure, but they may not have day-to-day interaction with the procedure. Therefore, leaders should interview front-line employees who know the information better than anyone else.

Step 6: Begin Writing the SOP

Leaders will have unique items to include in their SOP. However, there are some standard topics that would benefit them to add:

  1. Policy/Specifications

    What standard, guidelines, or regulation is this SOP created to meet?

  2. Purpose

    Why does this SOP need to exist? How does it help to create an environment of growth and quality control?

  3. Scope

    Who is impacted by this procedure? Does it expand to multiple departments, or is it just meant to be followed by one group?

  4. Designated Owner

    Who has ownership of this procedure? What are the responsible for handling?

  5. Procedure

    What are the precise steps to accomplishing this procedure? It might help to have this one listed in a checklist form.

  6. Definitions

    This is where leaders can list any terms that could be hard for employees or those outside of the company to understand.

  7. Metrics

    Every process needs to be measured for improvement, so leaders should describe any metrics and benchmarks that are associated with this procedure and components that are critical to measuring.

  8. References

    What literature or business processes support the importance of this procedure?

In addition to all of these components, there should also be a spot for revisions. There are times when procedures will need to change because of growth, so each original SOP should have an area where these alterations can be recorded.

Step 7: Review, Review, Review

Before publishing leaders should have subject matter experts look over SOPs to ensure they are correct and easy to understand. Management and a quality assurance group should also have a look at the document to offer input or make any changes. The goal is not to get the document in a place where it is never published, but it is important to have diverse perspectives so the SOP can address them.

Step 8: Develop a Process for Review

Procedures should evolve and grow with the business. Therefore, leaders should develop periods of time for each SOP to be reviewed. This step can include information from metrics, customer surveys, and any new objectives the company is pursuing.

Step 9: Publish

Leaders need to develop a process for publishing SOPs. Some may choose to do paper, while the new digital space is increasing the option for online publishing. Wherever it is located, it should be readily accessible, and there should be an original that is only revised with the permission of a committee. The easier it is for employees to access this information, the better they can improve on the work they are doing.

Part 3
SOP Best Practices

  • Let Customers Know

    Has there been an overhaul in revising a lot of procedures? Then customers should know this. Craft a new article on the company’s blog post, or send out a message on social media, so customers know the company is dedicated to producing quality processes. Leaders may even want to include specifics about how certain operations have changed.

  • Don’t Forget the Revision Number

    One of the best ways to keep current on revisions and ensure that other employees know when changes have occurred is including a revision number on the document. Major changes can have a new number while minor changes can have incremental numbers (ex. 1.2, or 2.2).

  • Include a Watermark on Unfinished SOPs

    There will likely be a lot of documents floating around, and a lot of edits on various drafts of SOPs. Therefore, leaders should ensure that all unfinished versions of the SOPs have a draft watermark so employees will not take this as the final version. This step is a good SOP in and of itself.

  • Accompany SOPs with Flow Charts

    This is a great way to show how specific SOPs and departments connect with one another. It may help employees to see the big picture of how processes and procedures interact with one another and why SOPs are necessary to regulate quality control.

For companies to grow successfully, they have to understand their procedures will develop along with it. Consumers trust companies they can depend on. SOPs help this to happen. They are a guiding foundation for leaders to manage quality control. If a customer calls in to report a product failure, they should receive the same remediation every time. Products should also follow the same specifications regardless of who is producing it. SOPs keep planes in the sky, trains on the tracks, and televisions on and operational. Therefore, leaders should strive to create SOPs to drive their business procedures. Customers will know when they can trust a specific company because the prevalence of this document will keep products and service under universal standards that bring consistency.