What is an SOP? And Why Does My Business Need Them?
I played volleyball for three years before I had a coach who properly taught me how to spike a ball. While I could hit the ball in middle school, there wasn’t any power behind those hits.
Then, during my freshman year of high school, I had a coach who broke down the science of hitting a volleyball. We went through hitting step by step. We paused in each second of our movements to check the position of our hands, feet, arms, hips, etc.
After doing that, it finally all clicked. And while I can hit a volleyball just fine nearly two decades later, I still stop sometimes to return to those basics.
And standard operating procedures (SOP) are that return to the basics for your company. SOPs break down your processes so your employees can do something for the first time or so they can remember something they’ve been taught before.
Working for ScreenSteps — a knowledge base software company that helps you quickly create content and share it throughout your company — I’ve seen how properly documented SOPs can alleviate the pressure on company leaders and employees alike.
Below, I’ll introduce you to SOPs (what they are, their purpose, when you use them). And then we’ll dive into the benefits of having documented procedures for your company. That way, you too can feel less stressed.
What is a standard operating procedure (SOP)?
Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are documented instructions on how to correctly complete tasks in a company. It is a help guide for operations.
SOPs set a standard for your company on how different situations and tasks should be handled. It aligns leadership and workers on what the expectations are for work in the company. They provide step-by-step directions for where to do tasks and how to complete them.
Think of them as your roadmap. Just as your GPS shows you which turn to take when driving from Point A to Point B, an SOP takes your employees on a journey. This journey is some form of operation.
That could be a loan officer reviewing their portfolio, a frontline employee helping a customer exchange a product, a support agent troubleshooting an error code, or something else.
SOPs can include both written and visual cues to help lead your employees through a process. The design and visual instructions (i.e. screenshots, indentations, etc.) help employees follow the guides while they are in the workflow.
What is the purpose of an SOP?
The purpose of an SOP is to help your employees do a task correctly.
A side-effect is that your employees feel more confident and experience less stress.
When you document your procedures, you are making information and advice available to all of your employees. This helps employees accurately complete assignments that they may not have been able to do otherwise.
One common mistake companies make in documenting their SOPs is they put them in a folder and nobody uses them. Your SOPs are meant to be used regularly. Your employees should be able to access them whenever they have a question.
When would you use an SOP?
SOPs are used throughout your company in every department. Your employees use SOPs when there is a job to be done.
Some examples of situations where your employees could use an SOP are:
- In call centers to verify your return policy
- To process a deposit at a bank
- To publish a blog post to the company website
- For packaging an order made online
- When invoicing a client
- To request time off
There are many other scenarios where SOPs support employees. The key is that an employee needs to complete a task and they need a guide to ensure they don’t make mistakes.
Why are SOPs important in business? (7 benefits)
Maybe you are thinking, “My company’s too small,” or, “We don’t have enough standardized procedures.” However, that train of thought is flawed.
No matter the size of your business, SOPs help secure the future operation of your company. Here are seven benefits of having documented SOPs for your business.
1. Enable business growth
What happens when you grow your business? You hire new employees and disperse the responsibilities. Before growing your company, there were fewer people sharing responsibilities. They knew how to do their job and that’s all that mattered.
Now, the baton is being passed to new people. Without SOPs, you will likely drop the baton. And you don’t want to be like China’s 4 X 100 relay team in 2019, trust me.
If you don’t have documented SOPs, the knowledge and lessons your company has already learned are not being passed onto the new employees. SOPs are an opportunity to share knowledge across your company so that you are prepared to grow.
2. Create consistency in operations
When you don’t have a standardized way of doing things, then you won’t have consistent outcomes. You have a case of tribal knowledge overtaking your company. That means each employee comes up with their own way of getting things done.
That creates confusion as you bring on new hires. They don’t know whether to follow what their trainer Sally said to do or to do what their neighbor Dominique does.
Having standardized SOPs — an approved and systematic way of performing procedures — creates consistent operations and a consistent experience for your customers. It also improves efficiency in your business operations.
3. Help employees avoid mistakes
Let’s face it — it’s human nature to forget. Nevertheless, a huge part of training for most companies is memorizing large collections of detailed information.
When you provide your employees with SOPs, they can reference them at any time. They can pull them up if they are unsure how to generate a PDF or can’t remember how to process an invoice.
Having SOPs on hand that employees can follow helps them avoid mistakes. That’s because they can review information as they need it.
4. Ensure compliance
Most businesses have some sort of industry standards or government regulations they need to follow. These are standards that are set by a governing body to make sure things are done ethically and correctly.
The thing about compliance is that — just like Point #3 above — it relies on employees remembering every little detail they were trained on.
If you document your SOPs for compliance and require your employees to use them, then you will have fewer mistakes and marks against your company.
5. Scale employee training
When your company is hiring one or two employees at a time, it is easy to give them personal attention and cover every detail in your company. As you start to scale your business, however, that becomes more difficult — especially if you have a lot of SOPs.
You can use your documented SOPs as part of training. Have employees get in the habit of searching your SOPs when they have a question.
By having documented SOPs, you can spend less time in training because your employees have resources to help them remember and learn.
It can improve the experience for new hires as it alleviates the pressure of memorizing everything.
6. Provide self-serve opportunities
Do your employees rely on asking team leaders or neighboring coworkers for help when they get stuck? When you have documented SOPs, your employees have more opportunities for self-service.
Self-service means that employees can find answers to their own questions. It is a form of continuous learning, meaning you provide your employees an opportunity to develop new skills while they are on the job.
For this benefit to be a reality, you need a system that makes your SOPs accessible for all employees. This could be a document library (i.e. Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.) or a more advanced cloud option like a knowledge base.
7. Avoid losing critical information
When you document your procedures, you get critical information out of experts’ heads.
Consider for a second the consequences of not documenting your SOPs. Is it difficult for you or another member of your team to take a vacation? Does it interrupt your workflow?
That’s a sign you need SOPs. You are too dependent on an individual and the information they store in their head.
Here’s another exercise: Pick someone in your company who really keeps the wheels turning. This could be a key player in your operations. It could be the only person who has access to certain software. Or someone who knows how to troubleshoot a unique situation.
What would happen to your company if that person disappeared tomorrow? What information would you lose?
Of course, you would love it if every one of your MVP employees stayed with your company forever. But, that often isn’t the reality. Think of SOPs as your company operation’s insurance policy. SOPs make it so that nobody in your company becomes a bottleneck or a liability if they leave.
With SOPs, you still have all the knowledge you need to keep the engine (your company) moving if your CEO quits tomorrow.
Ready to write SOPs for your company?
SOPs help share knowledge throughout your company. Ultimately, they unite your workforce in what each employee does independently and collectively.
Now that you’ve heard about the benefits of writing SOPs, are you ready to document your procedures for your company? It can seem overwhelming at first. But, even starting with your first SOP sets you on the right path.
With our ScreenSteps knowledge base software, we make it easy for you to document all of your SOPs and store them in one location. ScreenSteps have simple authoring tools that allow you to organize the expert advice in your head into an SOP anyone could follow.
Learn about the different types of SOP layouts and see examples to help you brainstorm what will work best for your company.