Skip to the main content.

4 min read

Why Are Standard Operating Procedures Important?

Why Are Standard Operating Procedures Important?
The critical task of writing policies and procedures rarely gets the respect it deserves. Not everyone understands why standard operating procedures are important.  Most people recognize the need for standard procedures, but very few people want to take the time to document them. 

When the topic of standard operating procedures (SOPs) comes up, most people immediately fall into one of two camps: lovers and haters. For every quality manager, auditor, process consultant, training director, and COO who views clear SOPs as the bedrock of efficiency and organizational success, there are just as many, if not more, haters out there.

Instead of viewing SOPs as a vital tool and game plan to manage and improve their operations, many managers perceive SOPs as, at best, a necessary evil.  You may be one of them—especially if you’ve watched your organization spend too much time and money creating convoluted, incomprehensible operations manuals and SOPs that only confuse, frustrate, and confound their employees.  Despite investing significant time, money, and staff resources, many corporate SOP manuals end up unusable and unreadable. 

We know that reasonable procedures and work instructions provide a way to communicate and apply consistent standards and practices within your organization. It keeps the "how to" knowledge from walking out the door when your star performers leave or retire. 

Benefits of Good Procedures

  • Save time and mistakes
  • Reduce training costs
  • Ensure consistent results
  • Keep people safe
  • Empower the workforce
  • Get read and used
  • Support quality goals
  • Enable you to delegate work
But poorly written procedures can be as disastrous as no procedures at all!

Risks from Flawed Procedures

  • Cause errors, confusion, and frustration
  • Increase training costs
  • Waste time and money
  • Detract from quality goals
  • Don’t get read or used
It’s the flawed procedures out there that are the problem. And we’ve probably seen many SOP documents in our 30+ years in business. Unfortunately, many poorly written, hard-to-understand, and frankly boring documents clog up corporate America's shelves, websites, network drives, and beyond.

Modern life and modern organizations are far too complex and fast-paced to navigate by trial and error. According to estimates, average American workers have to make more than 10,000 separate decisions every single workday. Researchers at Cornell University discovered Americans average 200 separate decisions every day just about food. 

Without instructions, trial and error is pretty much all we’ve got to go by. Trial and error is messy, slow, and sometimes even fatal.  Good systems clearly communicated are still the key to operations success and avoiding business failings. SOPs that real people can access, understand, and use really do deliver big business benefits. Good SOPs improve people's performance, reduce errors, reduce risk, reduce costs, ensure regulatory compliance, and ultimately improve profits.   

How to Avoid the Epic Fail When it Comes to SOPs  

Even though the potential value proposition is obvious, far too many organizations are not getting the results they want from their SOPs. Their SOPs and corporate operations manuals don’t deliver. Why is it that?  Most people are so focused on the clerical aspect of writing up SOPs that they lose sight of why they are developing them in the first place. So, the real value is never communicated to the team, let alone management!

Everyone is told, “Let’s get this DONE so we can get back to our real work.” This mindset is common in situations where there is no link to economic value. Unless you stay focused on the business outcome, the overall initiative loses focus and importance. If management views SOPs as a low-value task, they probably won’t commit the time and resources to do it right--and so won’t see performance results.  

What Business outcome does the SOP support?

Every day we hear from well-intentioned quality managers, document control teams, and compliance officers who want to get their standard operating procedures out of SharePoint or update the binders written years ago.  The project is doomed without senior leadership support. Many executives don't want to invest the time or money to establish good standard operating procedures in an SOP software like Zavanta unless it's tied to a business outcome.

Shift the focus to how your SOPs will be used.  

What performance outcome are you trying to achieve?  

  • Standardize work practices across locations?
  • Train new hires faster?
  • Reduce defects?
  • Roll out a new system?
  • Implement a new regulation?
  • Respond to customer inquiries faster?
It’s helpful if your desired outcome is something measurable. Examples might be a 25% reduction in call handling time, collapsing new-hire training time from 5 weeks to 2 weeks, and so on. What is the business outcome you want to achieve from your SOPs?  Unless your SOPs drive performance, why bother?  

To assess the effectiveness of your approach to SOPs, ask the following questions:  
  1. Does everyone in the organization have easy visibility on how things are done at all levels?  
  2. Are roles and responsibilities clearly defined?  
  3. Are work processes repeatable?  
  4. Is it easy to shift people from location to location?  
  5. Can your policies and procedures support operations as well as address multiple compliance requirements?  
  6. Is best practices knowledge still in peoples’ heads?  
  7. Are your “experts” overwhelmed by people constantly asking them for help?  
  8. Are training costs too high? Is it taking too long to get a new employee productive?  
  9. Is new employee training taking too much supervisor time?  
  10. Are managers spending too much time fighting fires, and dealing with mundane issues, instead of mentoring employees and focusing on innovation?
Unless you can say YES to questions 1-5 and NO to questions 6-10, you are NOT getting the business benefits you should be from your company’s SOPs. 

Shift your opinion of the value of standard operating procedures

A simple shift in thinking will help you create an SOP system that people will want to use and your auditors will love. Instead of focusing on creating documents, create good systems.  If you have a good system, anyone who follows it can get a good result every time. Capture those systems into clear, reader-friendly SOPs and make them easily accessible to employees as aids to their work. You’ll quickly start to see those confounding, hard-to-follow  SOP manuals transformed into powerful performance improvement systems.  

We’re on a mission to change how you think about SOPs. Our Zavanta software‘s authoring wizard and built-in advice enable anyone to create good SOPs in less than half the time of conventional methods. Contact us to learn more. 

Additional Resources