SOPs

What are Business Procedures, Processes & Standards? Differences & Examples You Need to Know

Company procedures make or break a business in the long run. Confused as to how they operate and how to improve them? Look no further.

Introduction

There’s no end to concepts when it comes to running a business. Specific company procedures, processes, and standards are required to maintain operations across teams and support employees in achieving their objectives.

A BP trends survey stated that ​​in 2015, 96 percent of companies had some form of documentation. There is even expected growth in the market by 2021.

Although this documentation all sound and might seem similar, they have key differences. We’ll focus on what business procedure means, how it differs from processes and standards, and even how to best implement a procedure.

What is a business procedure? Procedures vs. processes vs. policies in business

A procedure is a written guide that explains to employees how to carry out one or more business process actions. It outlines the phases and details what needs to be done, indicating when and by whom the procedure should be carried out.

For a more general definition, a procedure explains the how- of a process. So, it directs the user on how they should complete a particular process.

Now how can we differentiate procedures from processes and policies?

Processes are a set of repeated tasks that lead to a desirable outcome. They are related to procedures in the sense that you require a procedure to implement them. 

Now let’s get to what a policy is. A policy or standard is typically an internal decision relating to the organization's long-term goals and principles that should be followed. These are usually taken at a leadership or managerial level, often determining the rules of the workplace.

To obtain any degree of success, any business should have all three components to function. Anyone who has to finish a task can find it difficult to continue any operation without considering them. An example to explain each of these is:

  • Process: Onboarding a new employee into your business.
  • Procedure: Onboarding documentation explains the roles and responsibilities of said employee.
  • Policy: Workplace policy that talks about the rules of a company to its employees. 

There are many other examples of procedures in business as well. But each of those procedures does contribute to the effectiveness of a business. More important than that, procedures help advance organizational goals in many ways.

What are the benefits of business procedures?

A study from the firm IDC found that 75.9 percent of companies have suffered severe business consequences because of bad or non-existent documentation. That means without a proper procedure in place, it can get difficult to complete any related tasks or actions.

Even Matt Diggity from Diggity Marketing stated that: “…business cannot be run without documentation regardless of its size. From solopreneurs to large firms, all need documentation to keep records of operations.”

How does having a business procedure benefit a business?

  • Having transparency and clarity regarding tasks: A procedure is meant to act as a map of what one should do when there’s any business-related task. This helps employees understand who they should turn to for any questions or issues. It upholds the hierarchy of the system and factors in how to obtain the most favorable outcome.
  • Promotes consistency across the board: With a procedure, it focuses more on the repetition of a task. This means when there’s a right way to do any work, it happens continuously to provide the best results for your business. This saves a lot of time spent on experimenting. An Asana study found that structured procedures can save workplaces up to 270 hours a year. 
  • Access information quickly: A written document usually addresses all processes in a business. As the world of work is changing, the need for reliable documentation of business knowledge increases. Well-documented procedures can be used to be recorded and shared with other employees. 
  • Ensures compliance and security: Following rules and regulations such as the ISO 9001 certification can better protect the business from fraud and theft. Each stage of the process is mapped, ensuring administrators and users have all the documentation they need to meet compliance standards. In addition, it emphasizes the importance of keeping information regarding business assets, employees, and physical resources confidential.
  • Allows to make improvements in processes: Similar to business process optimization, having a set of repeated tasks means finding out what works and what doesn’t. It can often happen that the way you’re operating isn’t favoring the bottom line. In that case, any procedure should be open to change. Once you pinpoint the bottlenecks, you can adapt the current system accordingly.
  • Easily onboard new employees: When there’s a set guide on responsibilities in an organization, it can get easier to explain how things work to those who join a business. Often, passing on that knowledge can prove to be challenging. New employees can be confused about the chain of command or their workload. In that case, it can reduce human error as well.
  • Improves customer experience: Since the customer determines the success of your business, it’s important to keep in mind that there should be a focus on them. Creating procedures to enable better communication and quicker problem-solving for them is essential. This builds brand loyalty and an unparalleled reputation.

Although it’s quite enlightening to see how business procedures excel an organization. Having a proper business documentation strategy is no simple feat.

Sharing different types of information properly is critical to encouraging employees to follow agreed processes. However, it can often go wrong because it relies on people to review and follow the correct documentation independently. 

Challenges in writing business procedures & solutions

Whether you’re new or experienced in creating business procedures, there are a few obstacles you might have to overcome. However, avoiding them is quite simple, given that you’re aware of what you should be doing.

Challenge #1: Unclear or undefined instructions

Employees or management are usually dependent on procedures for their day-to-day tasks. It is common to see that these documents do not completely reflect the reality of their responsibilities. The language may be vague, or the task owner isn’t clearly defined. This creates a barrier to transferring knowledge properly. As a result, issues can easily arise when completing a task from start to finish.

Solution #1: Use simple & clear language with visuals

Not everything needs to be filled with business jargon, go with a language that’s easy to understand. You’ll also have to ensure the steps guidelines are general enough for any employee - whether a new or experienced one. 

You can even state the actions in an active voice to remove confusion. It should seem like you’re directing the user to their end result and not leaving them confused halfway. 

A good way to make it more interesting is to have a standard procedure template to capture the basics required. With Scribe, you can add a  visual element with screenshots, flowcharts, and text for an all-in-one experience. Here’s an example of a LinkedIn Sales Navigator Onboarding guideline you can use as an example:

Challenge #2: Too many sources of data or information

Most organizations contain multiple departments, which either operate on their own or work among each other laterally. Now a procedure can span from department to department depending on their overlap in duties.

This is where multiple sources of information come into play. Data for each department exists within its own internal system, often, they’re not available for employees all across the board. In that case, it can get difficult to extract the right information for the right procedure

Solution #2: Break it down 

it’s crucial to manage data on a single platform so users can access it for various purposes. It must be unified and purged since unnecessary data doesn’t help. Collect the essential information needed to complete a single task in the system. Once you’ve identified that, it’s easy to combine it in a single source.

Oftentimes, there can be a shortage of information to make informed decisions.

Although most of us are connected digitally, it can be the case that we don’t know where to look. Some business process management examples can be useful to visualize how data can be used to create a workflow in an organization.

Challenge #3: No logical flow in documentation

For any procedure, keeping all the information in one document is natural. But what happens when the steps seem unrelated? This means the process is inefficient as it doesn’t lead you to the right outcome.

With that in mind, it can lead to even bigger issues like decreased productivity. That affects the overall health of the organization.

Solution #3: Follow a methodical pattern

There must be a logical flow in your documentation which means segmenting each process. When documenting any of the workflows, they can follow a hierarchical pattern or be based on the importance of tasks. Some also start from the beginning of the process.

Depending on the type of procedure, you’ll have to go through certain steps that should make sense when performed. It is highly unlikely that you’re able to build a successful business without completing a task in a step-by-step manner.

Challenge #4: Limited workforce engagement

A SHRM study shows that 89 percent of HR leaders agree that ongoing peer feedback and check-ins are key for successful outcomes. Without counting on employee feedback, there’s little to no chance of being able to change with the tide.

Solution #4: Include feedback for improvement

For any written procedure, you must account the need for adaptability. In an ideal work environment, it can be easy to keep any procedure the same throughout the years. However, there can be slight changes in how employees prefer working. 

Try doing a trial run of your procedure on your employees. After that, ask for anonymous feedback via surveys to understand which steps/ aspects the employees can’t properly carry out. 

In that case, you’ll have to tweak each misstep in the procedure until you reach a point where the operation is running smoothly.

Challenge #5: Identifying inaccurate insights

When trying to improve an organization’s procedure, drawing incorrect conclusions about certain information can harm your organization.

With so much data available, it can be difficult to identify whether your actions are correct. Moreover, whether your end result is favorable for your company as a whole.

Solution #5: Measure your procedure’s success before final implementation

Organizations should consider procedure effectiveness (how well the procedure meets customer needs or desires) and procedure efficiency (whether the process uses the minimum resources necessary to do so).

Look into what KPIs you should set for any process and then identify how to set up a procedure based on that. If the set goals are not met after the implementation of that procedure, you must start again from scratch.

Now that you know what to keep in mind, audit your current procedure systems. Think about why those exist and whether they serve a  purpose. If not, streamline your business processes to bring about the best possible result.

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Business procedure best practices to keep in mind

Obviously, having a good procedure in place is essential for any workplace. That's something that we’ve emphasized throughout. So now, how would you go about doing that? We’ve listed down some pointers you’ll need below:

  1.  Document whatever necessary information is needed.
  2. Check whether your procedure reflects your organization’s mission and objectives.
  3. Assess if each step in the procedure is clearly mentioned along with the owners.
  4. Continuously train employees on how to follow a procedure properly.
  5. Schedule one-on-one or team feedback sessions to improve on current procedures.
  6. Encourage leadership to openly express thoughts about the procedure and ask them to utilize these guidelines themselves.
  7. Look into whether your procedures are up-to-date regarding regulations and compliance.

Once you’ve followed through on all these steps, you can safely say that your procedure can be properly implemented. Want to take a look at what an example of that looks like? Here’s a guide on analyzing data using Google sheets you can use as a template:

Create stronger, faster business procedures (with Scribe)

The better your documentation process is, the more you’ll be able to share with your team. A great tool that can help you is Scribe.

Within a few seconds, you can generate a step-by-step procedure, along with annotated screenshots, text and links. Even after your Scribe is ready, you can easily edit it according to your needs.

‎Thinking of adding a new step to the process? You got it! It’s possible to erase potentially confidential information too.  Once your procedure is finalized, just share a link or export it as a document. The options to transfer your information are endless.

If you’re looking for the best tool to support your documentation process, look no further than Scribe.