SOPs

How SOPs Are Used in Human Resources

From recruiting to onboarding and management, HR processes need consistency. Learn how SOPs for human resources boost company efficiency and productivity.

Introduction

For many companies, the past year has been a series of trial and error acclimating to the “great reset.”

Employees are rethinking the way they do work — and likewise, employers are reevaluating processes to encourage stronger workplace productivity and satisfaction.

In a survey of over 10,000 knowledge workers, Asana’s Anatomy of Work learned that busy employees weren’t necessarily busy doing impactful work.

On the contrary, the study found that 257 hours could have been saved over the past year if companies simply implemented stronger processes.

As companies thread the delicate line between keeping employees happy and juggling the chaos of new policies, HR teams will face even more pressure to keep everyone in the workplace on the same page.

The human resources function is in a unique position to set the expectation for standardized processes in an organization.  Streamlining tasks and to-do’s for onboarding, employee training, and maintaining knowledge bases ultimately save managers and their team members time in the long run. But to do this effectively, your HR team needs SOPs.

What is an SOP for HR

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) provide HR teams with a standardized set of instructions to carry out procedures for attracting and retaining talent, managing employee performances, and implementing company-wide policies at scale. 

HR teams wear many hats. From selling company values to potential employees and keeping existing employees happy, to maintaining legal compliance with security and payroll protocol, HR teams regularly juggle responsibilities that are mission-critical to every business’ bottom line.

Each of these processes requires attention to detail, especially when managing sensitive communication with multiple employees, stakeholders, and vendors. Employees spend an average of five hours every week waiting to get in touch with people that have the knowledge they need. At scale, it’s inefficient for anyone across the company to use up all this time scrambling for documents, templates and files every single time a new policy or team member is introduced.

You want to spend your time creating detailed documentation that your team can plug and play into regular company initiatives. SOPs serve as the foundation for current HR initiatives to be implemented smoothly while ensuring companies are able to improve and evolve existing processes for the future.

When do you use SOPs in HR? 

If you’re thinking, “I don’t possibly have the time to write SOPs for every standardized procedure,” then you’re in luck. We have a quick way to help you evaluate. 

The idea comes from the $10,000 per hour work framework championed by Khe Hy, who owns the popular productivity newsletter, RadReads. The framework encourages us to categorize responsibilities into buckets of monetary value: 

$10 work

Tasks that can be done quickly but don’t yield direct business results. 

$100 work 

Tasks that can be done quickly but do yield direct business results.

$1,000 work

Tasks that require skill but may not directly pay off soon with business results.

$10,000 work

Tasks that require skill and will pay off well at a later date.

The process of creating SOPs is $100 work — it won’t take you much time to complete but it does contribute to results at a future date. 

That’s because your SOPs serve the purpose of enabling $10,000 per hour work, which Hy says includes “high leverage and high skill activities” like recruiting, training, and implementing SOPs after they’ve been created. 

Let’s take a look at a few examples of using SOPs to best support impactful HR functions:

1. Recruiting talent
Hiring teams today can no longer wait for talent to funnel through job applications and career pages themselves. The recruitment function has evolved to prioritize proactive talent sourcing, and data shows that this is a skill in high demand — job postings for recruiters on LinkedIn grew almost 7x in 2021 compared to 2020. Recruiters have to do a lot more than managing job postings, screening candidates and scheduling interviews. They’re also building recruitment marketing campaigns, sourcing talent on job boards and hiring platforms, and sending cold emails to potential candidates.

Standardizing these processes is important to ensure everyone on your recruiting team is showing candidates a consistent brand image, adopting the right etiquette when communicating with talent in the market, and working efficiently with your recruitment tech stack. This helps increase the volume of qualified candidates in your talent pool while reducing time-to-hire. 

Your SOPs can walk through processes like:

  1. How to use your recruitment tool to source passive talent
  2. How to maintain data hygiene in your ATS or CRM platform
  3. How to send potential talents cold email outreach

2. Onboarding new hires

Standardized employee onboarding processes can improve new hire productivity by up to 62%. You want every new hire to receive the same level of attention, training, mentorship, and support. This keeps your employee morale high, boosts retention by 50%, and shows new and existing employees that you’re committed to their long-term growth. HR teams tend to work with lots of little tasks to achieve onboarding success — this includes sending hires pre-boarding paperwork, preparing onboarding kits, getting office supplies and company portals ready, coordinating schedules with the rest of the company, and more.

Onboarding SOPs can be prepared to cover the following tasks:

  1. How to prepare onboarding documentation for new hires
  2. Placing orders or expensing reimbursements for office supplies and tools
  3. How to communicate with new hires leading up to their first day

3. Employee training

As more workplaces transition into remote or hybrid settings, employee training and development are a growing priority. 86% of employees say that job training is important to them but only 52% say that their employers provide the right amount of training.

What causes a poor training program? Outdated material, unorganized schedules, inconvenient training methods, and unengaging training modules are some of the many ways employee training can go awry. But all of these are avoidable with SOPs.

Your employee training program will run a lot smoother if HR tasks are grouped and streamlined into clear procedures for:

  1. Objectively identifying the right vendors, partners, or speakers to support training programs
  2. Building training schedules that best suit the needs of employees
  3. Measuring the success of training programs and modules

4. Performance management

More than 9 in 10 managers are dissatisfied with how companies conduct performance reviews. Managers spend an average of 210 hours a year in performance management activities. Inconsistencies in performance management rubrics and unstructured processes make it difficult for managers to fairly evaluate their team members and provide meaningful feedback, especially if they’re pressed for time or are unfamiliar with company systems. 

SOPs should empower leadership to thoroughly assess employee performance in a constructive and productive way. This means creating company-wide processes and best practices for:

  • Using HR or people management software to document employee feedback
  • Measuring success, KPIs, and promotion requirements in alignment with company goals and expectations
  • Relaying positive and negative feedback respectfully and appropriately

5. Benefits and compensation

It’s important to eliminate any uncertainty in navigating conversations surrounding compensation and benefits. If employees don’t receive transparent communication on pay and perks — especially after being promised so during the recruitment process — the first line of defense your company will turn to is you. To avoid any communication discrepancies, poor budget management, or negative implications to employee health and wellbeing, you want to define deadlines and procedures for processing and implementing any new benefits and compensation policies.

SOPs should clearly outline: 

  • How employees can request paid time off and what they can expect from the approval process
  • What is covered and excluded from company perks like maternity leave, learning and development stipends, travel reimbursements, and more
  • When employees can expect their paycheck to arrive or what to do if paychecks fail to arrive

Benefits of SOPs for HR

Structured HR processes leave a visible impact by helping organizations build relationships with future leaders, daring creatives, strategic executors, and passionate builders. After all, that’s what $10,000 per hour work is all about. If you’re building a business case for stronger SOPs for your senior leadership, here are a few factors you should talk about.

1. Maintain quality of employee experience

About 1 in 6 employees today are considering leaving their current jobs for a new one. The employee experience has never been more important, but it’s also never been more complex. Discussions on flexible work, fairer wages, diversity, and workplace etiquette fall on HR teams as much as it does on leadership, especially as one of the primary points of contact employees reach out to when they’re unsatisfied. SOPs help HR teams organize existing processes and policies, making it easier to introduce improvements and gather feedback when things don’t go right. Keeping track of changes in policies can be overwhelming without SOPs, leaving more room for error and employee frustration. 

2. Build employer branding amongst job seekers 

Jennifer Shappley, VP of Global Talent Acquisition at LinkedIn says that companies are fundamentally changing how they communicate their employer brand:

“It's important to have a partnership between TA and the marketing/communications team when you’re doing this work,” she says. “Activating your entire employee base is the biggest way to get your messaging out there.” 

As more HR teams turn to cross-department collaboration efforts, SOPs ensure high-quality communication and project management. Your project deadlines aren’t always prioritized by other teams — if only! — but a clear process with set goals makes it easier to get employee buy-in and engagement on branding campaigns. For example, project management tool, Notion, released a few videos last year highlighting different teams in the company.  It’s difficult to launch a project of this quality if employees aren’t given clear guidelines on what to do during video production or how to engage or promote the campaign on social media after it’s been released.

3. Ensures the organization’s security and safety

From conducting background checks to preparing confidentiality policies and rolling out security compliance training, HR teams are responsible for keeping employees in the know of strict protocols that protect the organization at large. If your company is scaling or restructuring the workforce to boost productivity, you’ll likely need to reevaluate and refresh company policies to better reflect larger headcounts, new leadership, or different employee management tools and vendors. SOPs reduce the time spent creating new protocols from scratch. More importantly, it builds confidence in your existing employees about how your company manages its people and business.

4. Improves revenue and output quality

Let’s take a second for a quick check-in — when do you produce your best work? 

80% of employees on Fortune’s 100 best companies to work for in 2022 say they “look forward to coming to work and feel psychologically and emotionally healthy.” Common themes within these companies are employees who feel included, listened to, and are able to balance work and personal life. Beyond benefits, these companies introduce personalized employee experiences — and this is hard to do if HR teams are unclear about processes and goals. Ultimately, SOPs create a culture where your workplace is motivated and filled with people who want to contribute to company goals and ambitions.

How to build your SOPs for Human Resources

SOPs aren’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Some processes are more complex than others, so you might be rolling out documentation ranging from brief visual 1-pagers to multi-page PDFs. But regardless of how your end product might look like, planning your SOP creation process prevents your team from wasting time or sacrificing other priorities on your plate. Here are a few ways to to create your SOP program.

Writing your SOPs

  1. Identify the goal: Have your team agree on key outcomes for your SOPs. You might want to get feedback from other team members and managers to help you get there. This will influence how you write SOPs and implement them.

  2. Define your audience: If your SOPs aren’t tailored toward the people who are going to be reading them, then you’re basically shouting into an empty room. Before you begin writing, identify who are the employees you’ll be helping, what defines their success or productivity, and how your SOPs can best help them reach desired outcomes.

  3. Select a format: Common formats for SOPs include organizing processes as hierarchical steps, flowcharts, and step-by-step instructions. To pick the most suitable format, consider the length of the procedure, any decision-making that employees need to make, the number of potential outcomes that might arise, and if your employees are working remotely or in person.

  4. Structure your document: Clearly define each section of your SOPs for easy reference. For lengthier documentation, you might want to break your content up into categories like the purpose, scope, responsibilities, glossary, hazard warnings, and more. 

Implementing your SOPs

  1. Get feedback: Input from employees, managers, and senior leadership should be collected at every stage of the SOP process. When scaling newer initiatives — like remote employee onboarding — it’s helpful to collect feedback from a few existing employees before formalizing any documentation. If multiple individuals point out similar errors or a lack of clarity, you’ll likely receive the same response from new hires too.

  2. Review the data: Beyond qualitative KPIs, the data you collect can also be qualitative. Streamline any metrics, comments, or examples that show leaders the effectiveness of your SOP program. This can include engagement numbers at training sessions or listing down any productivity wins that can be attributed to more structured processes.

  3. Meet with stakeholders regularly: Your SOPs aren’t set in stone. Processes change as teams scale, company goals shift, and new software is introduced. As we’ve described earlier in this post, HR teams shuffle between lots of different procedures and tasks. It’s hard to keep track of all the little changes unless you’re revisiting them regularly with others in the company. 

Strong HR processes are the secret sauce to success at scale

A study on work productivity found that happier employees work harder. Companies like Google have invested extra resources in employee support, employee satisfaction has risen by 37%

As you look toward scaling your workforce, improving employee retention, and motivating employees in an age of agile work, HR SOPs will continue to be a worthwhile investment that you won’t want to miss out on.