How to Use Standard Operating Procedures to Build a Successful Company
What's the difference between a small, struggling business and a large, successful enterprise? In many cases, it's the set of processes that the company is built on.
As your company grows, it will need to hire new employees. Unfortunately, these employees won't know anything about your processes or how to get things done—at least, not at first. That's why you need to teach them.
Enter - standard operating procedures (SOPs).
In this article, we'll explain:
- What Are Standard Operating Procedures?
- Why Does Your Company Need Standard Operating Procedures?
- How to Create Effective Standard Operating Procedures in 5 Steps
What Are Standard Operating Procedures?
Standard operating procedures, often called SOPs, are detailed documents that teach employees how to complete specific tasks effectively and efficiently.
Besides step-by-step instructions, an effective SOP will clarify:
- Who is responsible for the process
- What the process is supposed to achieve
- When the process should be implemented
- Any resources needed to complete the process
This level of detail separates SOPs from standard process documents, which are high-level resources explaining the steps an employee needs to take to get from Point A to Point B.
An SOP, on the other hand, shows employees exactly how to complete each step in a process so that they can get from Point A to Point B efficiently, every single time.
Why Does Your Company Need Standard Operating Procedures?
While standard operating procedures take time and effort to create, they can be incredibly beneficial. Here are three specific benefits your company will enjoy once it creates an SOP.
Every business wants to be more productive. Standard operating procedures will help you achieve peak efficiency because they give your employees step-by-step directions, which they can easily follow to produce consistent results. When your staff knows exactly what to do and when to do it, they'll be able to achieve desirable results in less time.
Safety and Compliance
You not only want your employees to be productive. You want them to be productive while staying safe and meeting all compliance standards.
A well-crafted standard operating procedure doesn't leave room for interpretation. It tells employees precisely how to complete processes which can help reduce the chance of injury and legal ramifications. At the end of the day, companies with SOPs are safer and more compliant.
What's your company's best asset? If you said, "our employees," you get a gold star. 🌟
Employees are the lifeblood of every business. If you want your organization to succeed, you need to do everything you can to ensure their happiness at work. There are plenty of ways to do this—generous salaries, stellar benefits packages, work-life balance, etc.
Another way to boost employee happiness is to provide your team with standard operating procedures that make their job easier. Think about it: nobody wants to feel confused. SOPs take the guesswork out of processes, making every task more enjoyable and rewarding to complete.
SOPs also ensure favorable results. By giving your team access to these documents, you'll guarantee they're successful in their jobs, which will also improve employee happiness.
More Company Success
Productive employees get more done than their unproductive counterparts. And happy employees stick around longer than unhappy ones, which will save your company money. (Turnover ain't cheap.) Both of these things will help your organization achieve more success.
If you're trying to scale your company, there will come a time when you're not able to do every task yourself. If you create SOPs for essential processes, you'll ensure tasks are completed well— even if other, less experienced team members do them.
SOPs will enable your company to enjoy more success now and in the future when it grows beyond just you and the small team you currently have around you.
How to Create Effective Standard Operating Procedures in 5 Steps
Now that we know what standard operating procedures are and why they're important, let's talk about creating them for your company. Follow these five steps to make better SOPs:
1. Pinpoint Standard Processes to Document
First things first, which processes do you want to document? You’ll want to create standard operating procedures for essential tasks that must be completed the same way every time.
Here are a few examples:
- Onboarding new hires
- Getting set-up in company payroll
- Creating a campaign from a marketing automation platform
- Sending customer invoices
- Processing customer refunds
- Posting new copy to a Content Management System
- Categorizing transactions in accounting software
- Drafting and sending sales proposals
Remember, you don't need to create SOPs for every task—doing so would be a waste of time. Focus on tasks that are both important and complicated.
2. Identify Key Stakeholders in Each Process
Once you know which processes you'll document, identify the key stakeholders. There are three stakeholders to think about: the expert, the creator, and the audience.
Let's take a closer look at each of these stakeholders.
This person who best understands the process you want to document.
If you own/work for a small company, it might be the founder or CEO. If you're part of an organization with multiple departments, it might be one of the department heads.
This person will be an invaluable resource to you when creating a standard operating procedure. Why? Because they understand the process better than anyone. As such, they should be able to tell you exactly how to complete it in the most efficient way possible.
Identify experts, then lean on them during the SOP creation process.
The creator is the person who will actually create the standard operating procedure. It might be the expert we just talked about, but it might not be. Often, the creator will be someone else—preferably someone with solid writing skills.
Scour your organization's marketing, sales, and customer success teams to find someone who fits this description. Then ask them to help create your company's SOPs.
Lastly, but equally important, think about the people who will regularly use the standard operating procedure. Who are they? And what does the SOP need to contain to serve them effectively?
Are you creating a document for salespeople? Then consider using sales-oriented language that will resonate with them. What about new employees? These folks might not have a lot of company and/or industry knowledge yet, which you need to consider.
Once you've identified the key stakeholders for your SOP, you can move on to step three.
3. Create Your Standard Operating Procedure
Now it's time to create your standard operating procedure.
Documents of this nature typically include:
- A title page
- Table of contents
- Details about the actual process being documented
- Any extra bits of information that the reader needs to know
But, of course, you can add or eliminate items as needed
No matter what, keep these four tips in mind when making your SOP:
Choose a Format
As long as your SOPs explain company processes clearly and concisely and help employees become more productive and produce consistent results, you're golden.
That said, there are a few standard SOP formats you should be aware of:
- Step-by-Step: As the name suggests, this SOP format lists step-by-step instructions for employees to follow. Use this format when documenting straightforward processes.
- Hierarchical: This format is similar to the one described above but includes additional details to ensure employees perform tasks the right way. For example, instead of listing steps 1, 2, 3, you'd list them like, 1a, 1b, 1c, 2a, etc. Use this format when documenting complex processes that require detailed explanations.
- Flowchart: This format uses a visual diagram to illustrate processes. As such, it's easy to understand, though the information you can share with a flowchart is often limited. Use this format to document processes with multiple outcomes.
Define Your End Goal
What is the SOP supposed to accomplish? Make sure the end goal is clear so that readers know exactly what the process in question will help them achieve.
For example, if you're creating an SOP for onboarding purposes, your objective might be:
"To formalize the employee onboarding process and make it easier for management professionals to train new hires and for new hires to become comfortable in their roles."
Aim For Simplicity
The best SOPs are simple and easy to understand.
When creating these kinds of documents for your company, use short sentences and small words. We suggest minimizing jargon, too, unless it increases understanding for the target reader. This is another reason why you need to know your audience.
Add Visual Elements
We're just going to say it: every SOP should include visuals.
The easiest way to include visuals in your SOPs is to add screenshots. And the easiest way to add screenshots is with Tango. With our industry-leading tool, you can capture images, while you complete your task, in seconds, then edit them to perfection.
Get started with Tango today and take your SOPs to the next level!
Other visual elements, such as flowcharts, diagrams, and videos, can make your SOPs much easier to understand, too. Add them whenever possible.
4. Distribute Your Standard Operating Procedure
Once you've created a killer standard operating procedure, share it with your team!
Send it to them via email. Drop a link to the document in a company Slack channel. Host it in a tool like Dropbox and make sure every employee can access it. It doesn't matter how you send it to employees, just as long as they can view your SOP whenever they need to.
Pro Tip: Ask for feedback on your SOP. What do your employees think of it? Does it help them complete tasks on time? Do they produce better results now than before you created the document? Is there anything you can do to improve it?
Asking for feedback is hard, but it will make your SOPs much more valuable. So, take a deep breath and then let your employees share their opinions.
5. Monitor Your Standard Operating Procedure
You've created and shared your standard operating procedure. Now what?
Monitor the document to make sure your employees are using it and that it's helping them in their work. Just as important, make sure your SOPs are up to date.
Company processes change. You might find a more efficient way to do something. Or invest in a different piece of software to complete specific tasks. When changes happen, make sure you update your SOP to match. That way, you don't confuse your team.
Whenever you update your SOP, ask for more feedback from your team. Does the document still make sense to them? Is it still helpful? If not, make the necessary adjustments.
Build a Successful Company With Effective SOPs
Standard operating procedures are essential to your company's success —especially if you're looking to scale and bring in new team members.
Without these essential documents, your employees won't know how to complete tasks the right way, their productivity levels will plummet, and the results they achieve will be subpar.
Fortunately, SOPs aren't that hard to create. Invest in a tool like Tango, which will make the SOP creation process a breeze. Then follow the directions above, and you'll soon have an entire library of high-level SOPs, which you can use to grow your company!