Standard Operating Procedures: Why companies Need Them

No matter what type of business you have or what kind of industry you’re in – e-Commerce, manufacturing, hospitality, internet, healthcare, food service, logistics, education, property management, business process outsourcing, and more – having standard operating procedures (SOPs) is critical to your company’s success. SOPs enable your company to not only do things well, but do them repeatedly well. A business leader can steer the ship for as long as possible, but what happens when they leave? If a company is left without the framework they built their success on, it could be left on the brink of collapse.

Standard operating procedures are a set of instructions and practices that are unique to a company’s operation. They are created to serve as explicit guidelines for employees to follow. These SOPs are drafted with guidance from laws, industry practices, and standards on how to run a successful business. Standard operating procedures are more than just a set of written rules and guidelines, they are a blueprint for continuous success.

Is there a difference between business process and standard operating procedure?

At face value, business processes and standard operating procedures appear to be similar, but they are quite different. Business processes are the various steps required to attain a specific goal. They streamline business operations and serve as a guide on best practices for employees at their specific company. In practice, by following the set business processes, employees will deliver exceptional products and services to their customers. On the other hand, standard operating procedures are typically drafted as flow charts or bulleted steps based on suggestions and experiences of employees. Once created, these SOPs are tailor-made for different tasks across different departments to be followed by other workers.

Some of the benefits of standard operating procedures:

  • Employees can work independently.
  • A more organized company.
  • A unified, professional environment.
  • Better schedule adherence.
  • Improved training and skills development.
  • Safeguard confidential information.
  • Improved work efficiency.
  • Uniform customer service solutions.
  • Brand consistency.
  • Avoid mistakes and mishaps.
  • Better employee collaboration.
  • Compliance with legal requirements.

Here are some examples of SOPs:

Restaurant owners and their staff follow a number of SOPs when it comes to:

  • Correct handwashing, proper utensil usage, tasting procedure, employee meal breaks, facility and equipment care, sanitation, pest control, food storage, food preparation, cooking method and time, recycling, responding to food quality complaints, handling of food emergency situations, food recall, and meat, produce, ingredient procurement.

Hospitals also use standard operating procedures when:

  • Assigning an officer in charge; forming trauma and rapid response teams; having 24×7 maternity and emergency surgery preparedness; monitoring staff attendance; drafting a sick leave policy; properly and safely disposing hospital waste; coping with medicine and supply shortage; using CPR and other life-saving procedures; doing stock, medicine, and medical equipment inventory; determining safety of waiting areas; designating care areas in case of patient overflow; crowd control security; internal and external communications; vehicle and driver availability; establishing drop off and pick points for hospital workers; and ambulance availability for patient transport.

Now that we’ve established how important an SOP is to a wide variety of companies including, business process outsourcing firms, hospitals, hotels, and more, how do you write a standard operating procedure?

How to write an SOP? Here are important things to remember:

Determine why you need it. One of the first questions companies must ask themselves before they get into the specifics of how to create SOP, is why. Why do you need SOPs? One of the main reasons why so many companies have SOPs is because standard operating procedures are great business communication tools.  They demonstrate to workers the correct way of performing important tasks within the company. A company using SOPs can enjoy:

  • Consistency in how workers perform important tasks or activities. Where there’s consistency, quality isn’t too far behind.
  • Enabling and empowering your team. By providing employees with written manuals and detailed instructions of their job function, you are decreasing the chance of errors and preventing the spread of false information.
  • Better communication among your workers. A well designed standard operating procedure should include consistent updates and training. Employee participation and input in this process results in open lines of communication, an advantageous side effect of SOPs.

Determine what your goal is. The process of outlining a standard operation procedure format will remind you and your team what you need to accomplish. For example, if a company wants to outsource work to a business process outsourcer, they can simply provide them with their SOPs; then the outsourcer can understand and adhere to the company’s culture, rules, and voice. By laying out a detailed set of instructions, the BPO can handle outsourced tasks, the same way your in-house team does, giving you and your company peace of mind. These standard operating procedures document or documents can also be useful when the BPO company needs to:

  • Train new staff.
  • Study incident reports to identify what mistakes were made or what procedures were skipped. 
  • Review company policies.
  • Remind workers about company and customer expectations.
  • Reassess the current list of processes.

Collaborate with key people and experts. It’s important to share this work load with other company leaders in order to gather all relevant information needed for the standard operating procedure manual. To demonstrate, for example, Mary from customer service is great at her job but isn’t trained in billing adjustments and disputes. Why? Because that’s Jack’s job, in billing. Same goes for Jack. While he has an idea about how customer service works, he certainly doesn’t know the proper steps to follow in order to help customers. When you have experts in their respective fields/departments contributing their proprietary knowledge, you will have all the help you need on how to create SOP that is inclusive and all encompassing.

Decide who you’re writing it for.  When in the process of working on a standard operating procedure, don’t forget to keep in mind who you’re writing it for. The goal is to create a document that is essential and useful to those who will carry out the procedures contained in the standard operating procedures document. So, where do you start?

  • Use a professional tone and easy-to-understand language.
  • Provide a glossary for ease of reference.
  • Make sure to provide a clear explanation of processes and their outcomes to avoid any confusion to  the end user.
  • Lastly, don’t ever lose sight of the readers’ actual responsibilities and scope of work.

Find a standard operating procedure template that is easy to understand. Nothing is worse than a disorganized document. Check to see if your organization already has a previously drafted standard operating procedures document that you can use as your template. Using a template with a proven format will make the process much easier. Below are examples of different templates and formats available:

Smartsheet’s example of standard operating procedure templates:

  • Simple Standard Operating Procedure Template
  • Pictorial Standard Operating Procedure Template
  • Document Control Standard Operating Procedure Template
  • Long Standard Operating Procedure Template

Standard Operation Procedure Format

  • List. Your checklist can be as simple or detailed as you want, depending on its purpose. With a simple checklist, you can lay out a process without the pressure of writing an entire guidebook. On the other hand, if more decision points are involved, then a detailed hierarchical checklist is the way to go. With a hierarchical checklist, you can document leading processes and various elements of its sub processes.
  • Organizational chart. Drafting an organizational chart will help determine the importance of different levels of processes, and as such, makes it ideal for drafting a standard operating procedure manual.
  • Process flow chart. This format is what you often see in customer service training. Flowcharts are great when you want to demonstrate the different results at different points of the process. They are the best option to use for processes that contain multiple decision points.
  • Steps. For less complicated SOPs and simple procedures, listing steps is ideal. However, if your standard operating procedure involves 10 actions or more, then a hierarchal steps approach is the better option.

Gauge the effectiveness of your standard operating procedures. In customer service, companies often do research and rely on key performance indicators or KPIs. KPIs determine how competitive their performance is compared to global standards. The same should happen with your SOP manual. Set relevant metrics that befit the process you want to constantly improve over time. By doing this, you are able to address issues, update outdated procedures, and pinpoint areas for improvement in their early stages. You’ll never know what you’re doing wrong or where you can improve if you don’t set standards to meet. In addition, it is also imperative to keep up with ever-changing industry standards, trends, and various factors associated with the success of your business.

Complete several drafts before publishing. Read it, review it, ask for your team’s opinion, and make the necessary edits. Rushing a standard operating procedure template could be disastrous not just for the people following it, but also for the company that imposed it. To save time, have key employees who will use the SOP review the document in its early, middle, and final stages. By sharing drafts of the SOP in its varying stages, you’re ensuring that appropriate corrections have been made before you move on to the next stage. During this process, be sure to test the effectiveness of the SOP. You and other team members should all complete test runs using your draft. When you’ve made your final reviews, determined it is complete, and had it approved by all stakeholders – you are good to go. And of course, don’t forget to regularly review your SOPs to see where, if any, improvements are needed.

The business process outsourcing industry is full of challenges. You must be able to constantly balance doing what’s best for your employees, your clients, and their customers. That’s why Peak Support firmly believes in standard operating procedures. These SOPs not only help our agents do their work effectively and efficiently, but they also allow us, as a company, to protect our clients and their privacy while still providing their customers with unparalleled service.

Contact us today to learn more about business process outsourcing, and to find out if it’s the right solution for your business’ needs.

Written By:

Peak Support