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Standard Operating Procedures: Straight jacket or Lifeline?

You can divide most people into two categories when it comes to standard operating procedures: those who see them as a lifeline for effective operations  and those who see them as a negative force, a straight jacket constraining creativity and innovation. How do you achieve the positive results SOPs provide and turn around the negative perceptions?
When writing policies and procedures to standardize operations, it’s critical to understand the connection between Good People and Good Systems. Good systems support good performance and drive outcomes. They represent best practices and allow Good People to excel. Good systems eliminate waste and guesswork and free people up to perform at their best. Formal policies and standard operating procedures are simply the WAY you communicate good systems to good people.
The concept of systemization and standardizing operations is often massively misunderstood among people with a negative view of SOPs. Many managers think that systemization means “automation” and that it applies to machines not people. But that’s a major mistake that overlooks that the most important system component of all IS people. Human activity is the very core of any organization’s system of operations. Your organization’s real “system” is defined not by machines and technology but by
  • the specific tasks individuals perform,
  • the interaction and hand offs between groups,
  • the flow of work and information,
  • the policies and standards applied, and
  • the divisions of responsibility, accountability, and authority.

While specific “functions” may often be automated, your organization’s actual system of work consists overwhelmingly of human activity. Standard operating procedures exist to help Good People perform better—NOT to tie their hands and shut down their minds. When writing policies and procedures, keep the bigger purpose in mind—you are trying to help good people get better results. This simple attitude shift will help guide you to develop more effective, user-friendly policies and procedures that people will view as a life line.

We’ll have more to say on this topic in future posts.

Through our Operations Mapping approach and Zavanta software, COMPROSE helps our clients design SOPs and policy and procedure systems employees trust and use.