On September 9, 2022, Net Health co-sponsored a webinar with Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) titled “Process Standardization Do’s and Don’ts.” The webinar covered:
- The definition of process standardization
- The types of Standard Operating Policies and Procedures (SOPs)
- Reasons companies (from healthcare to retail and manufacturing) should create SOPs
- Steps for writing an SOP
- What to include in an SOP document
- SOP best practices
For those unable to attend the webinar, below is a summary of some of the main points presented by Eddie Stahl, a consultant with twenty-one years of experience in Occupational Medicine and Employee Health.
Defining Process Standardization and Standard Operating Procedures
While a definition of standardization might seem unnecessary, it does shed light on why SOPs are so important. It’s defined as documenting the processes that lead to making actions conform to a certain level of quality. This highlights an appreciation for:
- Formal documentation
- Detailed instructions needed to replicate processes
- Having a goal in mind so managers and employees can judge if a task is done and done properly
There are generally four types of SOPs, each with its own benefits. These include:
- Checklists, the simplest type.
- Step-by-step lists – these include easy-to-follow steps and can be beneficial to visual learners.
- Hierarchical lists – useful for more complex procedures that require multi-part steps.
- Process workflows (aka flowcharts) – the most visual format which shows the relationship between steps.
Creating Standard Operating Procedure Documents
Businesses may ask why they should bother creating an SOP document. But as the webinar points out, the process is invaluable for:
- Standardizing training so that all employees work with the same set of expectations.
- Streamlining workflows, so employees work at largely the same pace.
- Ensuring safe work methods and compliance with safety regulations.
- Providing consistency for employees and their managers.
- Preserving the best institutional knowledge about how to get things done efficiently.
- Assisting with onboarding and training later on.
Creating a standard process and an SOP document can save everyone time since procedures don’t have to be communicated to each employee individually. By committing this information to writing, workers and managers can refer to the document to ensure everyone abides by the procedures and assess employee performance more objectively.
As a living document, Eddie suggested that managers and anyone who oversees the creation and maintenance of these documents be open to employee feedback about how standards can evolve to meet new needs or incorporate new technology.
What to Include in Standard Operating Procedures
By creating SOP documents, employers can ensure they maintain institutional knowledge when employees move on. This can be particularly crucial when only a few employees have a deep understanding of a company’s software, for example. In this case, an SOP may need to be more detailed and include screencaps and other visuals so that people new to their positions can learn their duties quickly and accurately.
Steps for writing an SOP include:
- Generating a list of business processes.
- Noting your objectives in creating an SOP (for example, how it will improve efficiency).
- Choosing a format for the document (a checklist, flowchart, etc.).
- Identifying the specific audience (such as new employees or workers at a specific location).
- Collaborating with employees (since they are the end-users and need to be able to follow the SOP).
- Documenting the processes (using a mix of prose and images).
- Ensuring the document is interactive and combines an array of voices and input.
- Distributing the document to relevant employees.
- Ensuring you’ve made a living document capable of being updated easily.
- Using the document and communicating its importance as a way to follow guidelines or achieve job success.
The Importance of Standardization
Writing an SOP can involve time and organization and requires commitment from workers and managers, but the rewards are great. By creating a clear, concise document that involves employee input, companies can save hours of training time and on-the-job delays resulting from unclear instructions or poor shortcuts passed down from previous employees.
If you’d like to learn more about creating a Standard Operating Procedure document for your business processes and get tips, including the 11 items Eddie Stahl says should be in every SOP document, be sure to watch the webinar.