Great companies aren’t built without great processes.
Many of us are working with more flexibility and digitization. Many of the companies we work at have been forced to adapt and move away from the playbooks that once worked so well.
When T3 Expo saw their revenue decline by 75% during the pandemic, new processes were put in place for them to turn exhibition spaces into a temporary field hospital for COVID-19 patients. All this started with a 30-day scenario plan and new processes to help employees apply their skillset in a new area for the time being.
When our standards for success change, our processes change too. The SOPs that once defined our goals may not align with the productivity needed today.
If companies don’t put effort into maintaining processes big and small, it becomes difficult to adapt smoothly to new goals and tough situations. In this blog, learn how to keep SOPs up to date so you can create a workplace that prioritizes process and effective systemization.
Why keep SOPs up to date?
Nick Malinoswki is the co-owner of OTW Shipping, which provides fulfillment services for eCommerce businesses. His team uses SOPs to reduce shipment errors in picking and packing processes and to ensure the satisfaction of clients and their respective end customers. He reduced shipping his error rates from one percent to 0.01 percent thanks to accurate and updated SOPs.
But imagine if his team worked while referring to guides that are no longer relevant to the standard of service their clients need today.
Only 39 percent of workers say their workflows are somewhat up to date.
Outdated documents defeat the purpose of what SOPs are put in place to do. SOPs give your team clear instructions so tasks can be executed in line with the standard for success that’s in place at that point in time.
If the workflows you’ve documented are no longer the most efficient way to get something done, then you’ll weigh your team down and create an adverse effect on team productivity. A process to manage and maintain information in your SOPs prevents you from running into the following setbacks:
- Longer working hours.
- Inaccurate outcomes.
- Back and forth communication.
- Frustrated employees.
How to keep SOPs up to date
Ninety-five percent of employees see opportunities for their companies to better handle documentation processes. Your team must prioritize organized systems, communication, feedback and accountability to ensure that SOPs are checked on regularly and updated when the need arises. We’ll walk you through a few ways you can instill habits that make SOP maintenance and updates more manageable and transparent for all stakeholders in the process.
Organize your SOPs for consistent auditing
Teams don’t just work with one or two processes to get their jobs done. More often than not, you’re dealing with a large volume of documentation serving different purposes. Some SOPs are company-wide, others are specific to a department or team, and then there are those solely dedicated to a specific person managing or executing a task. As a manager or person in charge of overseeing these documents, remembering all this information at the top of your head isn’t going to cut it — let alone if you’re trying to keep track of change history and version updates.
Eighty-three percent of workers lose time each day to versioning issues of a document. A common cause for poor SOP update processes is a lack of awareness on what documents have already been created, where they are, and who created them. To streamline your SOP management, create a master document that houses a complete list of SOPs your employees need to get their job done correctly. Clearly label each SOP with the document’s title, contributing department, publish date and version number.
Depending on the organization of your team and how they work, you can customize your document so it’s separated by process stages or roles. For example, an auditing document for all marketing processes can include:
- Company guides: Documents by HR, finance, and legal terms related to vendor expenses and reimbursements, procurements, IT management, and policies for commercial communication
- Department guides: Documents created by the marketing team to standardize branding and communication guidelines, quality assurance for campaigns, and best practices for department tools and software
- Team guides: Documents created by the marketing team improve the efficiency of each function within the department, like product marketing, digital marketing, and content marketing. This can also include guidelines created by other teams that work with marketing, like how to collaborate with sales, customer success or engineering teams
You can arrange these SOPs in a document like the one below so you always have a point of reference when anything needs to be updated.
Create a process-driven culture
It’s easier to tell when your SOPs need updating by analyzing how effectively your team is utilizing them. Scott Hodges, the Chief Operating Officer at TruNovus ties each SOP back to a scorecard developed for team members in a particular role.
“The scorecard is a good way to make sure that your SOPs are actually being used and are providing the right outcome,” says Hodges.
This is a great example of a process-driven culture at work. If team members are not meeting the desired productivity levels your SOPs are supposed to achieve, make it a point to look back at the corresponding documentation to spot any outdated practices or tools.
A common habit in the workplace is providing one-off communication when a colleague has a question about a process or makes errors that are typically avoidable. Effective systemization means analyzing productivity gaps from a process-level first before looking at each individual on your team. Not only does this embed a habit to check SOPs regularly when employees hit roadblocks, but it also helps you make sure employees aren’t underperforming because of miscommunication or unclear directions on your end and not theirs.
Having a master list detailing what each document does — like the one we talked about right before this — also gives you a great point of reference for you to easily correlate low-quality outcomes with an existing document.
Assign SOP accountability
You can also uphold a process-driven culture by assigning ownership over SOPs to yourself or someone on your team. Even with an organized master list of SOPs, reviewing and maintaining SOPs regularly is an effort that should be clearly defined to avoid any confusion. When too many people are involved without a clear understanding of what the exact next steps are, there’s a higher likelihood of inconsistencies and miscommunication.
The person in charge of the SOP management process holds accountability over what documents need to be created, updated, and approved. If inefficiencies are caught and processes need to be changed, everyone on your team has a point of contact they can turn to so those changes can be made and recorded in your auditing document.
Below is an example of document systemization at work. Having a person or a team in charge of this process will help streamline communication and collaboration between everyone involved — from the employees who need the SOPs to the document’s authors, editors and approvers.
Centralize SOPs in one place
For many employees, it’s a familiar feeling searching through company drives, databases and communication channels for a single SOP document or tutorial. It’s just as common to finally find the document, only to realize it was published years ago and may not reflect your organization today. Over nine in ten employees say that being able to quickly access updated versions of documents will make their jobs easier, especially if they don’t have to search across systems.
Having a centralized location to view and edit your SOPs makes it convenient for teams to utilize them at any point of need. When your documents are scattered, teams become less motivated to use them and consequently, managers don’t feel the need to maintain them. Here are a few useful pointers to remember when centralizing your SOPs.
- Store documents that are easy to edit: A folder of PDFs can still work, but it becomes inconvenient to edit directly when processes need to be amended. Remember to compile the final drafts of your SOPs into a single location so you can edit them just as quickly. You can also use collaborative tools like Google Docs, Notion or Scribe to save your SOPs as editable files that can be updated without having to convert drafts into PDFs. These files are also easy to share internally and externally with tailored permissions so you can control access while decluttering your knowledge bases.
- Make it visible internally: Even with your documents centralized in one spot, they won’t be utilized unless your team knows that they exist. Link back to your SOP database in company wikis, employee handbooks, and training manuals. Depending on the software you use, you can also embed SOPs directly into company documents and communication channels that are commonly used by your team. This reminds employees to use them and provides more opportunity for your team to actually notice outdated material.
- Pick a user-friendly layout: Workplace documents can often be clunky, and difficult to digest. When your SOPs are ready to be published, you want to organize them into a format that’s easy to search, skim, and remember. Pay attention to the name of your files, the system you’re storing your documents in, how you write your SOPs, and how they’re categorized for easy access.
Hold an annual SOP review
An effective way to get feedback for development and updates is by speaking to employees directly. Malinowski used this approach to see just how important SOPs were: he learned they could shorten his employee training program from its original length of three to four weeks.
“Once we implemented training SOPs by interviewing our employees, the [training] process was much more streamlined and ended up being closer to 2 weeks,” Malinowski said.
Interviewing employees before implementing an SOP training program is great, but continuing to follow up with them annually is just as important for continuous productivity. Formalize your document maintenance system by holding an annual review of SOPs with all stakeholders. Use this time to interview your employees again, this time with the goal of better understanding how SOPs are currently being used and what content would make them more valuable. Some examples of questions you can use are:
- How are our existing SOPs helping you execute [process]?
- Does the SOP for [process] cover all the steps necessary for you to get the job done correctly today?
- Do you follow a workflow not listed in the SOP to get processes done faster?
- Are there any shortcuts or tools that can benefit the existing SOP for [process]?
- Have you run into any broken links, incorrect information, or outdated product and company messaging in any of the SOPs you’ve used?
When gathering feedback from managers and team leaders, you can structure the questions to focus on outcomes and performance standards that need to be met. You can ask these stakeholders if existing processes positively impact growth, revenue, or customer relationships. If you hear that your SOPs are giving a negative or negligible contribution, then you know it’s a good time to restructure them.
Tools to help keep your SOPs up to date
Depending on the nature of your company, you’re easily dealing with hundreds of processes to document, edit and communicate to different people in different roles. Planning and writing SOPs is a task in itself, and then comes the detail-oriented work of following up with employees and conducting audits of documents at scale. Manually, this adds up to a lot of hours.
Although SOPs are critical to workplace productivity, they shouldn’t have to away from your primary responsibilities.
With the right software, you can reduce time spent managing the creation of SOPs, the delegation of responsibilities and monitoring of results. Here are a few tools that are used at different stages of the SOP lifecycle:
- Automate review tasks with JobRouter: Create document maintenance workflows and automate tasks to conveniently manage communication with SOP authors, editors, and approvers.
- Create editable visual SOPs with Scribe: Automatically turn screen recordings into shareable and easy-to-edit step-by-step walkthroughs equipped with screenshots, a rich text editor and features to add tips and reminders for more context.
- Collaborate with SOP stakeholders using ProcedureFlow: Manage SOP collaboration and editing with built-in approval systems, change notifications, and change history.
- Centralize and organize SOPs with Notion: Customize company wikis and databases to centralize your SOPs into a user-friendly format that’s easy to read and navigate. Embed links and even interactive SOP documents like Scribe’s into Notion pages for an intuitive reading experience.
- Test SOP effectiveness with Kahoot: Create engaging learning games to test SOP knowledge and track results for an objective look at the effectiveness of your documents and how they’re being utilized.
Effective SOPs call for consistency
Whether you’re creating SOPs, maintaining them, or using them, consistency is important if you want to see your efforts pay off.
Incorporate the steps we outlined here into a plan that works best for your bandwidth and budget. This plan should outline short-term indicators that prove process adoption — like updates made within a period of time, a running document of feedback, or any noticeable patterns in the frequency of repeat questions and errors.
A process-driven culture isn’t built immediately. But if you and your team start making incremental improvements to your communication processes, record-keeping, technology stacks and workflows, you’ll begin to notice less gaps between the documentation you have and the outcomes you want to meet.