SOPs or Standard Operating Procedures are defined by Merriam-Webster as:
Established or prescribed methods to be followed routinely for the performance of designed operations or in designated situations.
Doesn’t sound too exciting, but SOPs are definitely something to get excited about — especially once you have them in place.
Here’s why: They’re designed and adopted to make your life and the life of your employees easier, to give your customers more consistent service and results, and to give you more freedom and time. With SOPs in place, you can delegate and know that your team is capable and empowered to do the job just as you’d have done it yourself, without you having to do it yourself.
But you should never think of your SOPs as finished, think of them as living documents. They’ll play such an important role in the daily workings of your business that you’ll want to revisit them regularly to make sure they’re still as good and as useful as they can be.
Ok, so maybe you haven’t yet set aside the time to develop SOPs, even though it’s been on your list of things to do for the last year. Maybe you’ve had a million other things come up or maybe the process of developing SOPs seems daunting to you. Whatever your reason, there’s no better time than now. Yes, you may have to carve out time you don’t feel like you have, but developing and adopting SOPs can save you so much time in the long-run. So put in the effort up front and just know it’s going to pay off tenfold.
Ready to get started? Here’s your 5-Step Guide.
Step #1: Start By Breaking The Task Down
While creating an SOP can be complicated, it doesn’t have to be. Coming up with an SOP can be as simple as sitting down and listing the different steps you take when performing a task. For example, here’s one for how to make a quick and tasty burrito:
- Put an extra large tortilla on a plate.
- Evenly distribute shredded cheese along the center of the tortilla.
- Evenly distribute taco sauce.
- Add a half a cup to a full cup of black beans.
- Add a half a cup of rice.
- Throw in some jalapeños.
- Add fresh cilantro, if you’re into that sort of thing.
- Lift the long sides of the tortilla to center the ingredients.
- Fold in the sides of the tortilla.
- While holding the sides in, fold the side closest to you over the ingredients, tucking in the ingredients with the tortilla.
- Roll the burrito away from you to close it up.
- Put the burrito in the microwave for one minute.
- Brown the tortilla (about 30 seconds on each side) on a skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add hot sauce to every bite.
- Love life.
Now, I know making a burrito is a lot less complicated than performing a technical job or a job that has step after step after step, but my point is that it’s doable and it doesn’t have to be such an overwhelming process. Just start with the basics and break it down into bite-sized chunks.
#2 Determine What’s Law & What Can Vary
Next, look at the list of steps you’ve come up with and determine which steps are 100% necessary and which ones can be up to personal preference or situation. Whatever is law, make it clear; wherever there’s flexibility in the process, identify it.
#3 Make Each Step Easy To Understand
In order to be effective, your SOPs need to be clear and concise. Ultimately, you want to be able to hand the SOP to a new employee and have them perform the task without needing clarification. So don’t use complicated language or lingo that someone coming in wouldn’t be able to understand and easily digest.
#4 Ask Your Employees For Input
Wherever you are in the SOP development stage, whether you’re just starting out or you’re revisiting, updating, or evaluating already established SOPs, inviting your employees to get involved is always a good call. And unfortunately, it’s also something many business owners forget or don’t think to do. Here are five reasons why you should involve your employees in the creation, development, and evaluation of your SOPs:
- Your employees bring insight to the process. Some business owners choose to stay out in the field while others work more on operations, but no matter which category you fall into, involving your employees in the development or evaluation of your SOPs can give you valuable insight into the way things are done or could be done better. Your employees know some of the processes and procedures you’re writing SOPs for well because they perform them every day — make use of their knowledge!
- It ensures clarity. Going through your SOPs and developing them with your employees helps ensure that the SOPs are clear to all on your team, not just to you. It’s amazing what we can sometimes take for granted as a given when we’ve done something for so many years, but by involving your employees in the process, you’ll know if you missed something or if some particular step needs more clarity or explanation.
- Your employees may know a better way. When you’ve done something one way for so long, it can become a thoughtless procedure that you do almost on autopilot. You’re not likely to try new ways of doing things, but the people on your team who may be newer to the job might. They may see ways that the system or procedure can be improved — but if you don’t ask them, you’ll never know.
- Your employees may see areas of waste that you missed. Just as your employees may see a different way of doing things, someone with a different perspective or who’s been in the business for longer or shorter may see ways that you could cut down on waste or save time on the job. Ask your team how they do things, why they do thing the way they do them, and where they think time and effort could be shaved off the process.
- Your employees will have more buy in. Sometimes SOPs can feel like a set of rules handed down by Moses on the mountain. But if you involve your employees every step of the way, as the SOPs are developed and updated, you’ll lessen the possibility that it will feel this way to your employees. Think about it: when you’re involved in the development of something and your opinion is valued and heard throughout the process, you’re more invested in the end result and more likely to adopt, right? It’s the same for your employees.
For the best results, lean on your employees.
#5 Try it out!
Alright, now take your SOP out for a spin. See if you can perform the task solely by running through the listed steps on your SOP. Look for gaps or missing steps, and adjust your SOP as needed. If no adjustments are necessary, make and distribute copies to your team or determine where you’re going to compile and keep your SOPs for easy reference.
Rinse and repeat until you have every possible process within your business down to a science.
Wait, I Don’t Have Any Employees — Are SOPs Really Still Necessary?
Here’s the thing about SOPs, even if you don’t have any employees, you should still have SOPs. Why? Well, who knows, you may end up hiring down the line, and with SOPs in place, you’ll have one less thing to worry about during the on-boarding process.
Having SOPs in place will also make your business more valuable should you choose to sell, because you’ll be selling your systems and the way you do things, rather than handing over something that’s worthless without you there to make the wheels turn.
So employees or no employees, make SOPs a priority for your business!
Pro Tip: If you don’t have a solid block of time to really knock them all out, schedule smaller blocks of time for SOP planning and development here and there — at the end of the workday while you sip a cold one or even on your phone’s notepad while you’re in the restroom — wherever and whenever, make it work. Who knows, you may even start to enjoy crafting SOPs, thinking of all the time and effort they’re going to save you and your employees over the years.