In an earlier article, we discussed the difference between Policy, Processes and Procedures (and why you should absolutely have all three). And while all three are important, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are often the ones most used in the day-to-day workplace.
Well written Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) not only make the job easier for everyone within your company, but they also take the guesswork out of how a job should be done.
Pilots have procedures and checklists they follow before every flight. They know all the steps, but by following the checklist, they don’t have to worry about forgetting a step.
And pilots aren’t alone in using a procedure to make sure everything goes swimmingly. This can be used for your business no matter the size. Procedures mean you create a system that details how everything should be run. It makes certain the little steps — such as ensuring each article has specific tags, and all the images have alt text — are followed.
Like the pilot’s takeoff checklist, a good Standard Operating Procedure is an easy to follow, easy to understand checklist.
Yes, a checklist.
Even more important, a SMART checklist. SMART is actually an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Trackable/ Time-Based.
Let’s break this down into pieces.
Have specific steps rather than a generalization. For example, a step that says “share on Facebook pages x, y, z” or “tweet to 15 influencers” is much more actionable and consistent than a step that says “promote online.”
Each checklist should have a measurable result. By following the SOP, anyone who uses it knows what they need to do and it will create a measurable result. This is great for validation because you can compare the results of the SOP followed this week to the SOP from last week. So following our article promotion example, this could mean examining if it has the same number of comments, likes, etc. as last week or is it significantly different?
Each step needs to be small enough to be easily achievable. “Write a novel” is not nearly as achievable as “write an 800-word article.” (Although you can combine several 800-word articles to create a novel.)
If you are writing a process for how to promote an article, you want to make certain all the steps are relevant to the task at hand. While steps about how to write an article are related, they are not relevant to article promotion.
Timely / Trackable
Because a Standard Operating Procedure is a detailed checklist, you should be able to see exactly where in the list someone is when they take on a task. This is both useful for knowing how much is left to do, but also for handing off tasks from person to person.
The biggest and possibly most important part of creating SOPs is that it makes it easy for tasks to be delegated. Rather than you having to repeatedly explain all the steps or things that must be done to complete a task, you have a list.
It also means there is no chance of you forgetting to mention a step, because they are all listed, along with all the sub-steps. You also know that if a member of your team is sick, or on vacation on a critical day, you don’t have to train someone else on all the steps. They simply need to follow your pre-written list.
If consistency sounds like monotonous repetition that will take the creativity away from things, know this: it won’t. The Standard Operating Procedure is about creating organization through consistency and making things easier to do, not stripping creativity away.
Now your team does not have to remember all the steps necessary to complete a process. This lets their minds think about other variables while allowing the SOP become a rote behavior. So they’ll think about writing the article, what they can do to promote it more, or even how the SOP can be improved.
It also means that senior members of your team don’t have to constantly remind other members of steps that need to be followed. So they have more time to focus on what you want them focused on.
Just Remember…There’s Always Room For Improvement
The importance of processes is not just the creation of them, but the improvement of them. One fact of life is this: things change.
MySpace was once the social media of choice. Now, it’s mostly a joke that revolves around everyone’s friend, Tom, while they peruse pictures on Facebook. Your business may depend on Twitter today, but in the future, you may start relying on pictures more and Instagram becomes the social media you focus.
And when you regularly review the SOP with those who use it most, they can help you improve it. Have an open conversation about the rationale behind the steps so you can work as a team to create a procedure that grows your business and makes things better for everyone.
Procedures = Growth
The reason McDonald’s has procedures with images on how each sandwich is made? Growth.
And let’s face it, that’s why you are in business. And growing your business is much easier when there are procedures in place because you can delegate and add new team members to handle more things. Plus, your customers and clients will know you always treat them with the same quality and consistency, and they will appreciate it.