Are SOPs the Future of Business?

What is the purpose of having SOPs?

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are the guides of how to perform a task in the business. It can be a step by step set of instructions often shared with a new member of the team. Usually, the reason for recruiting is because the business is overstretched. Having a quick reference of how tasks are to be completed will ensure commonality in how business is undertaken.

Even for a seasoned employee, having a guide to hand for the tasks that are not completed regularly. Watching a YouTube video to remind me how to write a formula in Excel has saved me countless times. Videos are a simple way to jog the memory of something which you already know. Videos in such a context are great because they are short and to the point, mimicking the environment of having a personal tutor. Sometimes a show and tell example is easier to digest than a sheet with only words.

The evolution of SOPs can be a good tool for training and compliance alike. Having a bullet-pointed document of how and when to conduct an evacuation drill may differ from having a quick reference guide with diagrams on how to carry out the routine maintenance of the copier machine. SOPs can ensure the safety and compliance of the team or business as a whole. For a scaling business, these written procedures are pragmatic when delegating tasks.

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Working with a law firm in the Caribbean, I introduced a robust procedure and process to accurately monitor annual leave. The labour laws allowed for workers to roll over their leave allowance indefinitely. Being able to ascertain holidays entitlement for each worker protected the company from unnecessary expense and legal action.

Closer to home, having implemented and worked with the ISO 9001 quality standard, I witnessed firsthand how SOPs have assisted in the team adhering to the schedules. In the construction industry, it is an apt method of evidencing and ensuring safety, with the filing of RAMs, conducting site inductions and monitoring training.

The ideal format for SOPs

Traditionally, a short document, no more than two pages of written material. Over time and with the advancement of technology, SOPs can now be presented in numerous formats, consisting of written materials, diagrams, flowcharts and/or pictures. The best practice would be to identify who will be using the SOP, to write it in a format that will best suit that role.

As we continue to embrace technology and the ease of accessing convenient apps, a recent proposal by a business owner, is to make a series of Loom videos. There is no longer a need for dusty folders, which no one refers to anyway.

My first thought is to have a system that is easy to reference and update any amendments necessary. It is easier to make amendments to a document, saving it as a new revision. I am no tech genius but I know enough to say with confidence all the revised documents will not take up as much space on the hard drive as a video. Encouraging the team to use the internal database ensures they are always using the most up to date version of the document. Documents can always be printed or easily shared with others; making them easily accessible should the server go offline (another aspect of the evolving digital world).

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Is a Policy and an SOP the same?

A policy will capture the regulations and rules to support the strategy of the business. For example, you have a business where you know the employees will be required to travel. One of the company values is to reduce the carbon footprint of the business where possible. Therefore, the policy will specify no air travel as a general rule.

The SOP will have a step-by-step procedure for booking travel but fails to mention the carbon footprint concern. After all, the guide is a quick reference on how to carry out the process. When faced with a travel dilemma, the person making the travel arrangement may use their initiative to book the most time-efficient and comfortable method of travel. This then becomes the norm and before you know it, the procedure is no longer being followed.

The Ethical Strategist Stance

To have a series of SOPs in video format or any other format is a job half done.  Here are a few reasons why careful consideration should be given before abandoning the old fashioned concept of policies 

Alienating your team

Having a new member start by being seated in front of a screen to learn how to do their role is the breeding ground for silos. The “newbie” is unable to engage with their colleagues. New to the role, a person all not want to ask too many questions. I am just about old enough to remember the workforce relive the nightmares of HR and Health & Safety videos. Ranging from the emotions of cringeworthy to zoning out it should not be forgotten that the organisation is still making an impression.

Not engaging with the individual is a massive red flag. Having an interview is no substitute for seeing how a person performs on the job. Probation periods exist for this reason. It is important to reconfirm the right person have been selected for the role and business. Employment regulations protect the employee or terms of a contract when outsourcing. Although best practice will always be to manage the situation as early as possible. The reputation of the business does not need the avoidable embarrassment of questionable practices. Always remember the people inside the business, are advocates and free marketing as much as the strategies you have in place.

Order and Compliance

Your staff only has half the information they need when you do not have a policy. Whenever we go into a store, we must pay for the items before leaving the premises. If we fail to do so, we know that the store manager can call the police, you get arrested and may have to go to jail (keeping it really simple). The policy is the Theft Act 1968, accessible for all to read. The procedure will be explained by the duty solicitor, running through what will happen. There are several processes from the point of arrest to the sentencing in court.

Can you imagine what it would be like with no rules in place? Total chaos and distrust due to the lack of clarity. Having policies in place makes it clear what the business is offering. Company values are becoming increasingly significant to new joiners as they want to work in an environment that aligns with their personal values. Capturing the essence of the business values in the policies will translate into the procedures and processes. If you are merely offering lip service, your team will soon realise, distancing themselves and ultimately leaving.

Convenience is Time-Consuming

Video and crib sheets are great for short, uncomplicated tasks. However, we must account for the times when things do not go as scripted. The lack of understanding or knowledge can have detrimental effects on the individual, the business and your bottom line. A prime example is the call centre, the person answering the phone and logging the details to pass it on to someone else. This can leave the customer with an unresolved issue where they are reconnected several times to various departments. It results in the customer demanding to speak to a manager and making a complaint. If it is reoccurring, the team member will become despondent and eventually look for something new.

Since I am the Ethical Strategist, my aim is to maintain order within all businesses. The right people in your organisation are as important as your clients. By internal community, I mean the people you work with inside your business, who, if you value them, will reciprocate that value back to you.

It is simply common sense to scale and enjoy life away from the business, a trustworthy and supportive team is needed. Think of a neighbourhood watch group, where the residents will maintain their property and garden and keep an eye out for any unsavoury behaviour. Each resident may have various reasons for getting involved, but ultimately everyone benefits from the increased property prices due to the desirability.

Is it wrong and selfish to only want the best for yourself? What about, if in the process, you are helping others? I think that is another blog for another time. In the meantime, should you feel the need to talk, I always have time to listen. Working with male entrepreneurs and SME business owners, my mission is to reintroduce mutual loyalty and ethical practices in their business. This will allow them the opportunity to step away from their business and become the Daddy Hero they desire to be.

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