Any movie fan has heard talk of SOPs in military and medical situations, but standard operating procedures aren't just good fodder for movie plots. Companies with standard operating procedures thrive by having employees be aware of what should or shouldn’t be done in any given situation.
The main benefit of SOPs is a team that produces consistent and reliable results in all kinds of scenarios.
Especially in smaller companies, management can’t always be around to issue instructions to employees, and that’s where SOPs shine. Whether it’s how to cash out a till or dealing with a power outage in a restaurant, knowing the step-by-step procedure means that the staff is empowered to act without waiting for a directive. SOPs help keep the team on schedule, and they reduce the chance of errors and the sorts of situations where employees might claim that they didn’t know how to react in a situation because there wasn’t a procedure to follow.
Where there are risks to health and welfare, or there is expensive equipment in use, standard operating procedures should be implemented so safety and security remain paramount.
Sure, there are limitations of standard operating procedures, but that’s true of everything because not every situation will be outlined or even anticipated. As the saying goes, there’s a first time for everything, and that’s part of the disadvantages of standard operating procedures – they discourage improvisation.
For instance, an airline’s customer service department may have specific rules for refunds and changes, but if someone’s spouse has died the afternoon of a flight, following the SOP may be the easy solution, but it may be a heartless and unhelpful one. Instead, following gut instinct and bending the rules might not just be the best thing for the passenger, but it could bring very good public relations in a social media age too.
- Maintain quality control. Whether your business is service oriented, or you’re selling a product, having SOPs in place will help ensure everyone is on the same page for how to get the job done.
- Keep things running properly. With equipment, computers and even work schedules, SOPs are useful for ensuring things run like clockwork. For machine maintenance, computer backups or people trying to trade shifts, having a step-by-step process for what needs to happen and when and how can make all the difference for ensuring business is uninterrupted.
- Invaluable for training purposes. Having procedures in writing means that employees are trained on how to do things one way. It’s not a game of “telephone” where they’ll be able to claim that X supervisor said it was done Y way. Instead, it’s there in writing step by step and can be easily referenced by anyone who needs to look things up.
- To maintain compliance. Whether it’s just for accounting reasons that things need to be done a certain way, or there are more severe government oversight reasons, SOPs will ensure people do what’s required in order to stay compliant with these systems. Safety and regulatory steps will be written in stone. Accounting processes will be easy to follow.
- For crisis management. When things go wrong, the last thing people are doing is thinking clearly. If there’s a fire or an accident, the one thing that really saves the day is knowing there are systems in place and checklists to follow. If people can jump into action on auto pilot because they’ve been taught how to handle things through the SOPs, it can save the day.