As a “logistical creature” by nature, there is nothing I enjoy more than tackling a problem and designing a process to streamline actions, prevent issues, and get a team all on the same page. Whether determining the most efficient way to care for 300 dogs (my first paying job) or in the capacity of a Sage consultant helping customers accurately track their inventory - the diverse needs of companies has always kept the tempting challenge of “how can we make this better” in front of me.
A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is how most organizations will document processes and procedure steps to help understand their diverse departments, help employees perform in their roles, and educate new hires. And although most SOPs do address core needs – Purpose, Responsibilities, Step by Step Procedures – I have found most also seem to lack two critical pieces: Environment Changes and Accountability.
To illustrate this, let’s use a simple example that we all can relate to:
Child A has responsibilities growing up (I do appreciate not all of us are currently raising children, but we all experienced this concept ourselves as we negotiated becoming adults) and the purpose of the “Responsibilities SOP” is to help prepare Child A to function as an adult.
Responsibilities are given and if met, Child A can participate in a reward. The process steps might be cleaning their room, taking out the garbage, doing their homework, etc. to earn them the right to visit friends or to earn money to make a purchase of their choosing. When the SOP for this process was initially put into place, Child A was in grade school, but over time the environment has changed and as a teenager, they might want access to a car or the ability to stay out later with friends. The SOP cannot stand as is, because Child A’s environment has been updated and the process steps must be addressed. Over the years that Child A has been under this SOP, there has also been an accountability factor as well.
As an example: If homework is NOT completed, they are NOT allowed to go out with friends. In all fairness, adapting to changes and making sure there is a strong accountability factor comes as second nature in the parent/child relationship. But it strikes me as strange that these two pieces are often omitted from our company SOP processes.
No Process Will Ever Exist In A Vacuum
Processes are organic, living things that need care and updating. All companies change and adapt from year to year and the processes that run our businesses will evolve as well.
Updating SOPs is often dismissed because “there will just be another change in a few months, and I will have to redo it again”. I will argue that SOP reviews done frequently are far less painful than waiting years and attempting to document an entirely new process.
For example: Company 1 is updating their shipping processes to help automate tracking information and in 6 months, a new software package will be added for the automation. However, right now the Shipping SOP is missing critical steps as 3 months ago customers began requesting tracking numbers to be emailed which is managed manually right now with no documented process steps. Adding the documented manual steps to the SOP now will build the structure for the addition of the automation process in just a few short months. A time block of a few hours every quarter ensures that all the benefits of SOPs are fully taken advantage of and no employee is ever left in the dark and wondering “what do I do now”.
If This/Then That
Accountability should be built into every SOP. The fear of “consequences” is a negative emotion, and no one likes to perform their job with big brother watching over your shoulder. However, a clear understanding of what is expected and what happens if the expectation is not met, is critical for all employees. This gives them insight into the importance of what they do for the organization and drives the sense of individual responsibility and team load share that builds a strong organization.
As an example: Company 2 has an excellent SOP in place that clearly documents the Sales Order Process where a comment line is mandatory for any special handling instructions. If no special handling is required a comment still needs to be entered with “N/A” entered on the line. This Sales Order SOP lacks the reason WHY this is mandatory and omits how the organization will audit and internally correct if this information is missing.
The original need was stemming from a disconnect between the Sales and Shipping Teams and was an attempt to eliminate animosity between the departments. This is vital information for Shipping to ensure their KPI are met, but because the company does not audit the requirement or hold Sales accountable for this part of the process, Shipping now feels their needs are unimportant to the organization.
I would argue strongly that adding the WHY and the audit process to the SOP would help Sales understand the importance of this information to the company; ultimately ensuring the information is given to Shipping and that all departments see how they rely on each other.
Change Is The Only Constant
Although our world continues to evolve (seems like daily these days!), a clear “battle plan” is a necessity. To ensure our businesses continue to thrive, we need to protect our most valuable asset: Our People.
A well developed and maintained SOP gives a consistent roadmap to streamline processes, prevent issues, and keep our teams in sync with each other. Whether managing Sage 100 complex manufacturing process flows, Sage 100 inventory transactions, or figuring out how to clean up after 300 dogs – keep the challenges coming!