When was the last time you bought new equipment for your business or even a new appliance for your home? When you did, in all likelihood, it came with a user manual. And that’s a good thing because the user manual shows you the equipment’s features, exactly how it works, and what to do when something goes wrong.
So, in simple terms, without the manual, you’ll have some challenges using the equipment you just spent your hard-earned money on.
With that in mind, shouldn’t your business have a user manual that makes it more organized and efficient, ensures that it runs smoothly, and shows your employees exactly what to do? If you think it should, it’s time that you create standard operating procedures (SOPs) for your business.
Apart from being a user manual that unlocks your business’s efficiency and productivity, SOPs have several other benefits, which include:
- Allowing you to maintain consistency in your business processes which eliminates variables that could lead to inefficiencies.
- Making it easier for you to train employees and get them up to speed as quickly as possible.
- Reducing errors in your processes and workflows.
- Helping you stay up to date with best practices and regulatory and legislative changes.
This sounds great, doesn’t it? It does, but here’s the problem. Although SOPs offer many benefits, they could be challenging to develop and write.
Fortunately, we’re here to help. With this post, we’ll dig deeper into SOPs, what they are, what benefits they offer, and, more importantly, how you can create SOPs for your business. As a bonus, we’ll show you how our tool can help you along the way.
Table of Contents
- What Are Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)?
- The Benefits of Having Standard Operating Procedures
- How To Create an SOP for Your Business
- The Bottom Line
What Are Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)?
Before looking at how you can create SOPs for your business, let’s quickly recap what SOPs are. Simply put, SOPs are sets of step-by-step instructions that determine how specific tasks should be done to complete an assignment. So, you can think of SOPs as a user manual for your business that shows assigned employees how your business works, who needs to do what by when, and how to do it.
In an article by Zapier, the author says, “By definition, standard operating procedures (SOPs) are step-by-step processes required to complete specific, repetitive tasks. Here are some examples of when you might need an SOP:
- Customer service functions like onboarding and offboarding clients
- HR functions like recruiting new team members
- Marketing functions like creating and publishing content
- Sales functions like putting together a bid or proposal
- Operations like packaging orders
- Accounting tasks like invoicing
Good standard operating procedures highlight whose responsibility it is to complete certain tasks. They state the goal of the process, when it needs to be done, the steps involved, and what resources are available to complete the process.”
In short, SOPs spell out specific business processes in clear detail and provide your employees with the roadmap they’ll follow to carry out specific tasks.
Keep in mind, though, the examples mentioned above are just some places where you’d need SOPs; depending on your specific business and its requirements, there will be others. The key, however, is that SOPs, irrespective of where they’re used, set out the process, when it needs to be done, how and by whom, and what resources are needed to get it done.
The Benefits of Having Standard Operating Procedures
Now that you’ve seen what SOPs entail, it’s easy to see why standardizing your business processes can be so beneficial. At its core, by having SOPs, you’re able to inject consistency into your business processes and track how things are done.
As a result, all your employees are on the same page at all times and know exactly what to do to get the job done. Also, by using consistent processes, you’ll eliminate as many variables as possible and reduce errors as everyone follows the same steps. This means you’ll leave nothing up to chance.
Plus, as a business owner or manager, SOPs get those processes you’ve developed out of your head and allows others to complete the work needed to the same standards had you done it yourself. Your vital business processes will be more automatic, which ultimately enables you to increase your business’s performance.
In addition, employees love working from SOPs. They know what is expected of them, when and how, without constantly having to ask their supervisor what is the next task. Because of this, the supervisor can get more work done as well!
But the benefits of having SOPs don’t stop with consistency, error reduction, and happy employees; there are several other benefits you’ll be able to enjoy by standardizing your procedures.
Just think about it, when your business processes are standardized with everyone knowing what’s expected of them, your employees will be more productive and your business much more efficient. It will run like a finely tuned machine.
It goes further than this, though. With proper SOPs, you’ll be able to see exactly where every process fits into your business. This, in turn, enables you to see whether you’re using the right processes or whether there is a better way of doing things. You will then have the ability to regularly “tweak” your processes for continuous improvements.
Once your employees start using these SOPs, you can also enlist their help in identifying areas for improvements, steps that might have been missed, or new SOPs that save effort or create better outcomes. Employees are eager to provide suggestions that can improve their work and then feel that they have a stake in the success of the company.
When your employees are more efficient and productive, they’ll be able to do more in less time without compromising quality. Also, because your processes are standardized, your employees never have to wonder if they’re doing something right. They can simply focus on getting the job done.
Ultimately, this means you’ll be able to serve more customers and sell more. In this way, your business can grow more, and you’ll be able to generate more revenue. Simply put, you’ll be able to scale your business easier.
Adherence to Best Practices
Creating SOPs will help you develop and implement best practices in your business. These best practices may be specific to how you deliver services to a specific industry or may have been developed within your business as the most effective and efficient way to perform a specific task.
With SOPs, you have a single source when it comes to best practices. Your employees will have a clear guide on how to adhere to these best practices, which, in turn, ensures that you’ll get consistent, positive outcomes and minimize roadblocks along the way.
Better Training and Onboarding
When you have clearly defined SOPs, they serve as training manuals that make it easier for you to onboard and train new employees. This has two main benefits. For one, it reduces the time and effort required to train new employees. Another benefit is that new employees get up to speed and can be productive much more quickly.
With consistent processes come consistent quality. SOPs enable you to deliver consistently high-quality products, services, and customer support to your customers. As a result, you’ll increase confidence, build trust, and ensure customer satisfaction which forms the foundation of the lasting relationships you build with your customers. And this is especially important in an increasingly customer-centric world.
When you build these relationships, you’ll retain customers and increase each customer’s lifetime value.
Maintains Organizational Knowledge
Last but certainly not least, with properly documented SOPs, you’ll be able to maintain organizational knowledge. In other words, vital information about your business processes becomes one of the most valuable assets of your business.
For example, every team member in your business might already know what’s required of them and what they should do by when. Developing and maintaining SOPs help to pull together this knowledge from your management team to your project managers to front-line workers. With the capture of knowledge and development of SOPs across your business, you are setting your company up for growth, success, and value.
Team members change over time; some will be promoted, take a leave of absence, or retire. When that happens, having SOPs in place will ensure that the institutional knowledge, skills, and know-how that has been built up over the years stay in your business. Indeed, this knowledge is typically the number one value of your business.
How To Create an SOP for Your Business
Now that we’ve seen what an SOP is and some of the benefits you’ll gain when you standardize your business processes, your next step will be to write and develop your SOPs. Here, we’ll go through the series of steps you’ll need to follow to not only make writing your SOPs easier but also make their implementation more successful.
Identify What Processes Need to Be Documented
The first thing you’ll need to do is identify which processes you want to standardize. Ideally, you’ll want to have an SOP for any action that is performed more than once.
To help designate appropriate actions for SOPs, think through what would happen if a given employee was out for an extended time. Do you already know what and exactly how the person does their important tasks? If not, the task is ripe for an SOP. You can also talk to your employees at all levels about what actions they perform more than once, for which an SOP could help them in the future.
By following these strategies, you’ll determine your business processes that need SOPs.
Create Your SOPs
Once you’ve compiled the list of processes you want to document, write them out! You can start with 5-10 tasks for a particular action. As you fine-tune the process over time, you may end up with 25-30 tasks for that process. The number of tasks per process will depend on how complicated the action is.
Of course, you don’t want to end up with disorganized processes in different folders that you or your staff can’t find when needed. That’s where a business process management platform like Lista is beneficial. Designed for small businesses, Lista makes it easy to create and manage SOPs quickly and easily.
Remember, though, processes change over time, so you’ll tweak your SOPs by adding or removing steps as you find the most efficient ways of doing things. By creating your SOPs in a business process management tool, it’s easy to update and improve your procedures. These tools not only make creating initial SOPs simpler, but also allow you to continually improve your SOPs over time.
Once you’ve started writing your SOPs, there are some other things you should consider, including:
- Review. When you’ve captured all the steps in a particular process, you’ll need to review your SOPs. Ideally, the review process should be as quick, manageable, and efficient as possible.
- Distribution. You should also consider how you’ll make the SOPs available to your employees. As we’ll outline later, you have various options to do this.
Identify and Collect Information From Stakeholders
Be sure to identify and collect information from stakeholders for whom you’re creating an SOP.
Considering that your SOPs will outline specific tasks and processes, it’s crucial that you involve the people who are directly responsible for those tasks. As a bonus, because these people perform these tasks every day, they can give you valuable insights into the challenges they face and how the SOPs can make life easier for them.
It goes further than this, though. When you know what challenges your employees face, it’s easier to modify SOPs to cater specifically to users’ requirements so the SOPs are concretely useful for them. By using a collaborative process in which your employees are involved they have a sense of ownership, and you will encourage the successful adoption of the SOPs.
In addition, you should check for any documentation that may already be available for writing and editing the SOPs.
Your employees might already have some documented processes. When you find existing documentation or information, you can incorporate them into your SOPs and make writing them a bit easier.
Document and Review Your SOPs
As you are writing your SOPs, do not worry about making them perfect at first; just get them done. You’ll undoubtedly make edits, and you’ll continue to make edits in the future as you refine and improve your processes. Over time, you’ll identify improvements you can make to your processes that weren’t as apparent when you first planned the SOPs and gathered information.
An important aspect is to keep your audience in mind. You’ll want to consider the experience level of your staff members, whether they’re new or existing employees, and what information they’d need to complete a task.
In other words, you should write the SOP from your employees’ perspectives. For example, an SOP for management will be vastly different from an SOP written for an entry-level employee. It is important to tailor the SOPs to a specific audience which allows them to better understand and implement them.
Ideally, each SOP should be reviewed by the stakeholders who will be using them and by management who will oversee the work done by using the processes. In small businesses, this would typically be the owner, while, in larger enterprises, this could be the manager of a specific team.
Implement Your SOPs
The time then comes to implement your SOPs! The first step in doing this is deciding how you’ll distribute the SOPs to your employees. You can do this in various ways, from giving every employee a paper copy to making it available electronically. The key is that the right people get access to the SOPs.
A business process management software platform makes it easy to distribute and implement SOPs. It allows you to invite relevant employees to the platform and to specific procedures so that employees always have access to the SOPs when they need them.
Your employees might already be used to a certain way of doing things. As a result, they might not immediately see the benefits of changing their approach to doing something. This could make buy-in from your employees challenging.
Despite this, most employees will instantly recognize how their jobs become easier if they implement the SOPs. And, if all your employees start using the SOPs at the same time, they’ll be able to share tips with their peers on how to do this or that. The initiative then becomes a real team-building event.
To that end, you’ll want to set up a feedback loop to get insights from your employees on how the processes are working and how they can be improved. This approach is especially helpful if you’re developing and creating your SOPs from scratch.
Soon, you’ll be able to see how your SOPs work in practice. This allows you to test your processes, identify issues in their implementation, and make improvements as necessary.
A platform like Lista makes it easy for you to track the progress of your SOPs each time they’re used. As a result, you’re able to see exactly how your team uses them and how it affects your business’s efficiency and your teams’ productivity.
You’ll likely need to give a bit of training on SOP use, but that is typically not a problem. Your employees will soon see how the SOPs work in practice, the benefits of the SOPs, and how using the SOPs will make them more efficient and productive.
Ultimately, using the strategies above will ensure that your employees understand the SOPs, how they’re used, what their benefits are, and how they’ll be able to do their work better. The result is that your business will be more efficient and profitable.
Monitor and Review Your SOPs Consistently
The initiative doesn’t stop with the initial implementation, though. Remember, business practices evolve over time, new technologies become available, and workflows change. What works today might not work tomorrow.
As a result, it’s vital to review your SOPs regularly, adapt them, and make improvements as your business needs and requirements change. It’s also helpful to measure through key performance indicators (KPIs) how your SOPs contribute to the overall efficiency of your business. In this way, you’ll be able to see how SOPs affect your bottom line.
The best way to ensure that your SOPs keep delivering on their promise to make your business more efficient and your employees more productive is to keep SOPs updated. This will result in your SOPs evolving and aligning to your business processes. In turn, you’ll maintain the efficiency that was brought about by the SOPs in the first place.
As your employees implement and use a new SOP, you should encourage them to make note of any inefficiencies in the process and any areas of improvement and empower them the make changes to the master SOP. After all, they’re implementing the SOPs daily, so they’re in a great position to do this.
Ultimately, by monitoring and improving your SOPs regularly, you’ll ensure that they keep your teams as productive and efficient as possible while making changes when necessary or when circumstances dictate.
The Bottom Line
Do you want to unlock efficiency in your business, make your teams more productive, generate more revenue, and make your business more valuable? Then you need a system that sets out exactly how your business processes work, how employees should carry out tasks, and what they should do when they face challenges.
In short, you need SOPs. Simply put, they offer all these benefits and more. Using a business process management platform like Lista makes creating and maintaining your SOPs easier. Taking the time to create and utilize your SOPs helps you to:
- Record and maintain your business’s institutional knowledge.
- Save time and make your business more efficient while making team members more productive.
- Reduce errors.
- Continuously update your business processes to make them even more efficient.
- Increase customer satisfaction.
- Grow your business and generate more revenue.
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