Today’s businesses are facing extreme market challenges and opportunities like never before. To be ready for what’s next, it’s more important than ever for your business to have clear, current Standard Operating Procedures, or SOP documents.
What Are SOP Documents and How Do They Help Businesses?
SOPs are instructional business documents that serve as a blueprint for an organization’s growth and direction. They also list steps and benchmarks that allow businesses to set or change variables, then measure results. SOPs help businesses maximize time and resources and position themselves to scale.
SOPs contain a wealth of information about an organization, its structure, and its operations. An SOP lists procedures within a process, the company’s objectives, staff rules and regulations, health and safety measures, key dates, and signatures of those who create and approve the document.
SOPs are not formatted or written with as much detail as user manuals. They don’t include a complete list of daily tasks, procedures, or processes. But they provide information that allows businesses to manage staff and conduct operations with consistency, accuracy, and quality standards.
Not surprisingly, SOPs are a vital business tool for any organization or business owner, especially if they include health, safety, or legal compliance requirements. They’re also an important resource for teams that may not meet or communicate regularly, since these documents standardize processes, procedures, and outcomes.
SOPs help employees, contractors, volunteers, or anyone associated with the organization’s processes to have the instructions and information they need to perform tasks in the same way and get predictable results. They also allow businesses to implement test changes, to evaluate their success. SOPs essentially help businesses of all sizes run more smoothly, efficiently, and profitably.
Why Do We Need SOPs, If We’ve Never Used Them?
You may be wondering if SOPs are even necessary, especially if your company trains its employees. After all, creating SOPs requires an investment of time and resources, as well as regularly scheduled updates. Some feel they are a set of rules and regulations that are restrictive and could reduce productivity and employee morale.
However, without this set of written guidelines, standardization and consistency are difficult to achieve. Consequently, results metrics are not as reliable. Interpretation of results could be subjective and vary based on controls, training, equipment, and other factors. Also, not having SOPs significantly exposes both the employer and employee to considerable risk, in the case of a workplace dispute.
10 Ways SOP Documents Help Businesses Grow and Scale
Concise, well-crafted SOPs can have both immediate and long-term benefits for businesses. Here are the top 10 ways that these documents provide value and a hedge against unpredictable market influences:
- SOPs save businesses time and money by reducing costs and risk from errors or irregularities
- Provide consistency and standardization to maximize output and quality
- Provide guidance, allowing employees to explore ways to improve their skills, performance, and to evaluate their career path
- Improve employee communication, to help them be more innovative, collaborative, and productive
- Specify roles and responsibilities, to set expectations for individuals’ or teams’ tasks and projects
- Support onboarding and training for onsite and remote staff, to develop their knowledge base, skills, and proficiency
- Ensure employee safety through defined preventive and emergency plans
- Enforce accountability over processes, procedures, and desired results
- Ensure regulatory and industry compliance, to prevent fines, audits, and penalties
- Provide direction for knowledge transfer, so that staff transitions are smooth and seamless
How Do You Write an SOP Document?
Writing SOPs takes time and extensive input from employees at all levels. It also requires verifying instructions’ accuracy and several iterations before signing off. Once completed, it becomes a living document that’s used frequently throughout the business as a reference guide.
When writing SOPs, it’s easy to use words that are familiar to the writer, but not necessarily to the reader. Whether short or more complex, SOPs should be written with the reader in mind. They should be clear and easy to understand by anyone reading them, to avoid misinterpretation that could cause mishap. An SOP should include internal audiences — those within the organization such as employees and contractors, as well as external audiences — those that the organization interacts with such as customers and clients.
You can find examples of SOPs in two formats — technical and managerial. They can vary in length, detail, and appearance, based on business needs. Both formats can be organized by department, manager, function, or asset. SOPs can be produced in several forms — a hard-copy document, internal website, slide presentation, or any other method that shares the information quickly and easily. Regardless of format, style, or medium used, contents should be inclusive and sensitive to diverse populations, as well as designed to meet ADA & WCAG accessibility requirements.
Organizing the Body of An SOP
It’s important to research different category options before organizing and writing business SOPs. Despite the different categories that may be used, these are the most common:
- Title Page
- Table of Contents
- Project Scope
- Roles and Responsibilities
- Additional Materials
- Health and Safety Warnings
- Revision History
- Approval Signatures
In some instances, it may be necessary to expand these categories. While an SOP should be informative, it primarily should be user-friendly in language, length, and layout.
SOPs Are a Plan for Growth
SOPs are much more than an evergreen business document that lists rules, steps, and guidelines. They have a surprising number of benefits to any business owner or organization. Having clear, professionally written SOPs can be one of your best investments, an important asset, and a key to long-term growth. Your business and your employees will reap its dividends for years.
How EDC Can Help
Whether you need a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation or a single technical writer for a brief project, Essential Data’s Engagement Manager will lead the project from start to finish.
Written by Liz Eastlake