SOPs

Top 7 SOP Challenges: How to Prevent and Resolve Issues

Teams and businesses build libraries of SOPs to do work more efficiently and accurately. Don't let these common issues stop you from implementing them.

Introduction

To err is human. To forgive? Well, that’s left to all parties involved.

However, one thing’s certain — human error hugely contributes to production and quality losses. This is why organizations, irrespective of industries, simplify and organize tasks into easy-to-understand steps commonly referred to as Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

Plus, the sky's the stepping stone for companies who use an SOP as it is known to increase sales by 33%. Think of a standard operating procedure as a magic cave that holds the secret treasure and answers to an organization’s entire operational process. It contains information right from mitigating risks to excellent customer experience, the hiring process, and even guidelines for closing business deals.

Apart from serving as a go-to guide (reference) for employees, SOPs are important for achieving consistency across departments irrespective of the employee or assignee on duty. They also keep employees safe, ensure an organization complies and conforms with regulatory standards, and enhance the business workflow.

In simple English, SOPs are lifesavers!

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that we are big fans of SOPs at Scribe. We love how Scribe automates how-to guide creation. Scribe saves lots of time in document creation for onboarding and standardizes document creation. We also help with the documentation and socialization of SOPs and best practices to support training. 

With this in mind, this article will examine why standard operating procedures (SOPs) fail, the challenges organizations face while or after creating them, and how to mitigate such SOP mistakes for future purposes.

Top 7 SOP Challenges: How to Prevent and Resolve Issues

It isn't new information that creating standard procedures for your team’s workflow tilts achieving great results and consistency in your favor and that of the entire organization. Failure to create SOPs is bound to create disorganization, inconsistency in results, reduced productivity levels, increased customer churn rate, and ultimately sink the organization's revenue growth.

For example, a new hire in an organization could find it difficult to follow work-related guidelines — which gets even worse if there aren’t any standardized procedures in place. Some employees might even confuse their inexperience for incompetence. This could dampen their morale, reduce their motivation to work, and ultimately;y make them leave your organization.

So, what do you do to avoid all of these and more? You create a proven guideline for performing tasks and activities in the form of an SOP. Armed with the information in the blueprint, employees (both old, new, or those moving to another department) can easily follow instructions, meet metrics for success and become high performers.

However, before we examine the biggest SOP challenges and how to fix them, let’s take a quick look at variables that suggest the success or lack thereof of SOP programs.

What Makes SOPs Fail?

Inaccessibility

Plant Engineering’s Facilities Maintenance 2019 Report clearly showed that 39% of organizations still rely on the traditional recordkeeping system to date. Storing paper records in filing cabinets might have been useful in the past, but with the current dynamics of today’s work systems, this wouldn't only give your employees 3X more stress to get things done, but also becomes an unnecessary hurdle your employees must face when discharging their duties. 

If your team is currently struggling with creating, managing, and organizing multiple SOPs in one place, then, it’s time to upgrade to a simple and digital platform like Scribe.

Nonchalant Attitude

If you've created a concise and thorough SOP as guidelines for your team to use, but they aren’t using them, this could lead to an SOP’s ineffectiveness. Reasons for this could range from the inability to get employees' buy-in, not asking employees for their input or opinion, or the inability of an employee to see an SOP’s benefits.

Poor Writing

You might think that following a written set of instructions is as simple as ABC. However, if the procedures are outdated or poorly written, you shouldn't be surprised to see variations in results. 

Lack of Proper Maintenance:

Procedures can change, thanks to time and experience. However, many organizations ignore or underestimate the importance of formally documenting those changes in their existing SOPs.  Some of the SOP maintenance mistakes that could later become a challenge include: 

  • Failure to incorporate procedural changes, as they happen.
  • Failure to add the history of the changes – accurately annotating the SOP with the proper categorization, the reason behind the changes, and accurate dates.
  • Not changing the summary of changes from previous to new.
  • No formatting, pagination, headers, and footers on all pages, and other formatting errors.
  • Lack of copyediting and proofreading to remove grammatical errors, inconsistencies, inaccuracy, etc.
  • Lack of proper access for necessary employees and stakeholders to access the SOPs whenever they need them.

Lack of Proper/Extensive SOP Training:

Having well-written SOPs would amount to absolutely nothing if employees aren't properly trained to use and maintain them. Managers must ensure that all concerned team members must read and understand the SOPs designated to them. Employees knowing what’s in the document and how to perform the tasks outlined are also an indicator of employee conformance.

Some strategies for assessing employees' conformance to SOPs are:

  • Assigning mentors or buddies.
  • Administering quizzes.
  • Using a checklist and other forms to evaluate tasks and ensure compliance.
  • Conducting performance reviews (and of course, documenting them) and giving feedback where necessary.
  • Signing with the accurate date on any documentation regarding the SOPs.

What Makes SOPs Successful?

The benefits of a well-written and thorough SOP extends beyond creating uniform workflows to include:

Improved Training

For new hires, employee onboarding is a breeze. Moreover, existing employees can easily communicate information with their new colleagues.

Measurability

A well-written SOP serves as a yardstick for measuring operational processes or workflows in the organization. You can easily gauge employee fulfillment levels and get employee feedback on what’s working and not working.

Risk Minimization

When SOPs are clearly written, it’s easier for team members to easily know exactly what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and the duration for completing such a task. This minimizes errors and leaves no room for confusion.

Enhances Innovation

Because employees are not wasting time and energy figuring out how to perform their responsibilities, it gives them enough leeway to think up new ideas and innovations, automate and even streamline current SOPs for improved success. This would spur them to dig deeper and uncover new questions on how to overcome operational issues.

Peace of Mind

Nothing beats having peace of mind…The ability to feel relaxed and happy knowing that you and the SOPs have totally eliminated or drastically reduced the chances of employees making costly errors while on the job. Ultimately, this would also improve employees’ motivation and increase their confidence as they discharge their duties daily. 

Looking at some of the indicators of success we’ve highlighted above, if you aren't experiencing this in your organization, you’re most likely making SOP mistakes that could be harmful.

Wondering where you’ve dropped the ball and looking for solutions on how to fix these SOP challenges? Keep reading to learn more.

Top 7 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) Mistakes You’re Making

Mistake #1: Not Properly Defining Your Company’s Rules/Procedures

Sometimes, you are neck-deep in ensuring that the organization works seamlessly, that you forget the most basic, but important things. A great SOP must clearly state its scope and what it aims to achieve. Honestly, your SOP would be useless if there aren’t clearly stated instructions on how tasks should be performed.

These standard procedures aren't some “wing-it-as-you-go” or mandatory instructions employees should follow. They are called “standardized procedures” because they are detailed instructions that enable employees and help them achieve their goals.

Solution: To correct this SOP challenge, ensure that they’re written clearly and understandably for everyone in the organization. A rule of thumb is to “write it for dummies.” Make it so simple that even a ten-year-old would be able to carry out the instructions perfectly. Additionally, to avoid mistakes, hire a copyeditor or proofreader and other subject matter experts to review it.

Mistake #2: Not Illustrating The Organization’s Workflow

A bunch of standardized procedures would fall short of expectations and results if you cannot provide a visual representation to back up the instructions listed in the SOP. 

Let’s examine some important stats that reiterate the importance of visuals:

We could list over a hundred stats here and they would all have a common theme: Visuals convert complicated instructions into easy-to-understand and follow steps. They break down each step into simplified guidelines.

Solution: Spice up your SOPs and make them fun by using visually-appealing images. Consider using gifs (to earn a chuckle or two), videos, images, infographics, graphs, charts, cloud files, slides/presentations, spreadsheets, databases, etc. 

Mistake #3: SOP Is Developed By Third Parties

You might not realize this, but having the company’s SOPs written by external collaborators (e.g. Consultants) is like having a circus master run a celebratory dinner. Both might be events, but they sure are different. 

Many managers make the mistake of allowing third-party consultants or the company’s leadership to run the SOP development process — when in reality, employees should be the ones to run the show. This doesn't mean that asking for the opinions or support of others is a bad idea. But, allowing complete outsiders to take over often leads to lengthy strategy sessions and unnecessary advanced vocabulary. 

Moreover, top executives who aren't directly involved in the execution of these tasks might either miss important details or add unnecessary information. They’re simply disconnected from the reality of executing the tasks you want them to write instructions for.

Solution: Your employees are the ones who would perform these tasks daily. Consult them when writing the SOPs.

Mistake #4: Fragmented Data

Creating standardized processes would be almost impossible without accurate data. This is a plight many organizations face, unfortunately. Many businesses are guilty of segmenting data by department, business function, and role. This, in turn, enables the inaccessibility of information and threatens standardization programs.

Solution: Organize the data you need before you begin the SOP development process to spare you the headache and frustration.

#Mistake 5: Not Digitizing Your SOPs

In 2019, digital-first businesses were 64% more likely than their counterparts to meet their top 2018 business goals. Additionally, 45% of companies that incorporated digital transformation into their businesses recorded higher net sales growth. (Source).

With tidbits of information being increasingly converted into digital formats, digitization is here to stay. At the click of a button, information can be easily drafted, stored, and shared with millions of employees, irrespective of their locations.

Imagine a company with outlets in other countries not digitizing their SOPs. How would employees achieve consistent results across their wider geographies? How would new changes or processes be modified, and then communicated to employees? How would the various teams in each branch execute tasks as clearly written?

Your guess is as good as ours: It would be completely naive to underestimate the importance of digitizing your SOPs.

Solution: It’s obvious: Digitize your standardized procedures and have them in one place. It makes it easy for necessary stakeholders to collaborate and easily access them. 

Scribe allows you to automatically transform your knowledge into documentation. Just click “Start Recording” and you can transform it into a center where content, procedures, and collaborators can be easily accessed. Managers can use Scribe to create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and collaborate with their team in real-time at the click of a button!

Some of the benefits of using Scribe include:

  • Collaborate with your team in real-time.
  • Allows you to store your knowledge in one place for easy and fast access.
  • Automate workflow documentation by generating an interactive screenshot and text description for each step.
  • 100%  responsive interface.
  • Easily search digital content inside your dashboard using titles, descriptions, and keywords. 

…and so much more! All you have to do is get Scribe for Free!

Mistake #6: Not Documenting Your Experience

Experienced employees have performed these tasks and achieved successes that contributed to the company’s growth. And now? It feels like routine. They could even do it in their sleep.

But, what about new hires looking to replicate such successes? How do they achieve them if the mistakes and tried and trusted methods of experienced colleagues aren't documented? How would new employees benefit from their years of experience?

You could argue that this information could be relayed via mentorship or when employees connect with each other. However, what if that employee leaves? What if life happens (say they died)? How does your organization transfer that wealth of knowledge to its new hires?

Solution: Enable experienced employees and high performers to document their experiences. Let them share the methods or strategies that served as learning curves for them. Empower them to share their personal experience with customers. Let them include the different methods that worked for them as well as mistakes to avoid.

Mistake #7: Creating Too Many Versions Of The Original SOP

If you have multiple versions of implementing a certain task, it’s certain that each employee that performs such a task would produce different results. Ironic, right? When your aim is to achieve consistent results.

Each team or employee would approach similar results directly. For example, the Customer Success department would offer conflicting methods for resolving customer complaints. Your SEO department would provide contrasting methods for auditing a client’s websites or schema mappings. 

Solution: How can you fix this SOP mistake? Take measured steps to ensure the use of a single version of an SOP by creating a board and assigning experienced members of a team to update and maintain one version for everyone to use.

Other Methods For Resolving SOP Challenges

Depending on the SOP issues your organization is currently facing, the following methods should also help:

  • Ensure a procedure is in place for determining what procedures or business processes should be documented.
  • Be involved in the SOP documentation.
  • Leverage a team approach, especially in multi-tasked instances where the experiences of certain individuals are important.
  • Review and verify the SOPs by one or more employees with appropriate training and experience with the SOP process.
  • Test draft SOPs with other stakeholders before publishing.
  • Have the SOPs approved by the organization's Quality Control department.
  • Review the SOPs periodically.
  • Update and approve SOPs when changes in the organization occur.
  • Have a master list of SOPs containing information such as the SOP number, date of issuance, author, status, title, version number, company division, branch, section, and any other historical information related to past versions.

Effective SOPs Are Valuable To Organizational Growth

SOPs can eliminate guessworks that can hinder business growth. With effective SOPs, it’s easier for your employees to follow instructions and get things done correctly.

Not only do effective SOPs foresee and fix any future SOP challenges you might have, but they also have the power to promote the change people want to see in the organization, set the business up for success, and improve employee training and management, increase employee safety, and improve efficiency.

Want all of these and more at your organization? Start writing effective SOPs today!