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5 min read

Why Are Standard Operating Procedures Important?

Why Are Standard Operating Procedures Important?

While most people can see the benefits of standardizing procedures in an organization (better consistency, increased productivity, etc.), few people want to take the time to document them. The critical task of writing policies and procedures rarely gets the respect it deserves. Not everyone understands why standard operating procedures are important.  

We know that reasonable procedures and work instructions provide a way to communicate and apply consistent standards and practices within your organization. They also prevent knowledge loss by keeping the "how-to" knowledge from walking out the door when your star performers leave or retire.   

Keep reading to learn about the importance of SOPs, benefits of good procedures, risks of flawed procedures, and the business outcomes you can achieve through implementing standard operating procedures within your organization.  

What Are Standard Operating Procedures?  

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are instructions compiled by an organization with necessary information to help workers carry out routine operations and business processes. SOPs aim to achieve efficiency, quality output, and uniformity of performance while reducing miscommunication and failure to comply with industry regulations.  

Why Are Standard Operating Procedures Important?  

Concise and well-defined standard operating procedures are vital as they remove any confusion regarding the best methods for completing tasks, enabling any member of your organization to consistently achieve standardized outcomes by following the outlined SOPs. The overall performance of a business can be dependent on SOPs.  

9 Benefits of Good SOPs  

Good systems clearly communicated are still the key to operational success and avoiding business failings. SOPs with easy access that real people understand use deliver business benefits. Good SOPs improve people's performance, reduce errors, reduce risk, reduce costs, ensure regulatory compliance, and ultimately improve profits.    

Some benefits of standard operating procedures include:   

  1. Saving time. A well-crafted SOP streamlines processes and ensures routine tasks are performed efficiently, which significantly reduces the time needed to complete them.  
  2. Decreasing mistakes. A well-designed SOP provides clear instructions that minimize errors and ensure consistent, accurate work in the best way possible.  
  3. Reducing training costs. SOP documentation serves as a detailed training tool, enabling new employees to learn to complete tasks quickly and effectively, thus lowering training costs.  
  4. Ensuring consistent results. Good SOPs help standardize procedures and ensure tasks are performed uniformly each time, which leads to consistent and reliable results and quality assurance.  
  5. Keeping people safe. A thorough SOP includes safety guidelines and precautions, helping to prevent accidents and injuries by ensuring that all tasks are performed safely.  
  6. Empowering the workforce. Clear SOPs empower the workforce by providing them with the knowledge and confidence to perform their tasks independently and correctly.  
  7. Supporting quality goals. The consistent use of SOPs ensures that all team members adhere to standardized procedures, enhancing overall operational efficiency and quality control.  
  8. Delegating work. A detailed SOP allows for easy delegation of tasks, as it ensures that everyone understands their responsibilities and how to execute them correctly.  
  9. Increased compliance. Effective SOPs enhance compliance by ensuring that all tasks are performed according to regulatory requirements and industry standards. 

5 Risks from Flawed Policies and Procedures  

It’s the flawed procedures out there that are the problem. And we’ve seen many SOP documents in our 30+ years in business. Unfortunately, many poorly written, hard-to-understand documents and reference guides clog up 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 if certain safety protocols are ignored.   

Some risks from flawed SOPs include:  

  1. Causing errors, confusion, and frustration. A flawed SOP can lead to errors, confusion, and frustration among employees due to unclear or incorrect instructions.  
  2. Increasing training costs. A flawed SOP can escalate training costs by requiring additional time and resources to correct misunderstandings or errors resulting from unclear procedures.  
  3. Wasting time and money. A flawed SOP can waste time and money by causing inefficiencies and errors that require costly rework or extended task completion times.  
  4. Detracting from quality goals. A flawed SOP can detract from quality goals by introducing inconsistencies or ambiguities in procedures, leading to potentially different outcomes and compromising overall quality standards. 
  5. Non-compliance. A flawed SOP may result in employees failing to meet regulatory standards, exposing the organization to legal and financial penalties. 

How to Avoid an 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. Most people are so focused on the clerical aspects 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 or leadership views SOPs only as a necessary evil to pass an audit. 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 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 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?    

  • Reduce the risk of a serious mishap?  
  • Standardize work practices across locations?  
  • Train new hires faster?  
  • Reduce defects?  
  • Roll out a new system?  
  • Implement a new regulation?  
  • Respond to customer service 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 practice 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 effective 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 actionable SOPs designed to drive performance outcomes in less than half the time of conventional methods.   

Contact us to learn more.  
  
  
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