The Key to Efficiency: Standard Operating Guidelines & Why They're Crucial To Your Business

Mehedi Hasan Shoab
October 25, 2022
min read
September 19, 2023
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Are you sure you know the operating guidelines definition? Nope, it’s not an SOP. Find out more about what an SOG entails by reading our article.
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Of course, SOPs and SOGs have many similarities. No wonder they’re considered the same thing. But be careful when making the distinction despite the blurred lines. Especially because these documents are required by the state, federal, tribal, and local laws.

That’s right, standard operating guidelines are not the same as standard operating procedures. You can’t use them interchangeably whenever possible. However, it’s important it’s developed and implemented in any organization to promote autonomy. Plus, it encourages consistency and productivity in the workplace.

What are standard operating guidelines?

When it comes to SOGs, there are a few different key terms to keep in mind. Guideline, regulation, rule, policy, and procedure. To define standard operating guidelines, let’s focus on the first word.

Guidelines refer to a set of instructions that guide what the current or future action should be. 

In that case, standard operating guidelines are documents that provide a general overview of the best practices in an organization. Unlike SOPS, they don’t adhere to any specificity.

The main objective of SOGs is to set certain standards that need to be met.  When evaluating such documentation, ask yourself:

  • Are these generalized enough to apply to all?
  • Do these adhere to the current laws and regulations?
  • Are these guidelines clear or simple enough?

There are more things to consider when developing these manuals. Especially when it comes to differentiating them from SOPs.

Standard operating guidelines vs. procedures – the differences

Let’s end the SOP vs. SOG debate once and for all! You probably already know what an SOP is. As hinted above, SOPs refer to specific instructions that comply with regulations, whereas SOGs are quite broad in that sense. SOGs exist where there’s no need to maintain industry standards.

When following a SOG, there’s a certain flexibility in interpretation allowed. SOPs are stricter as they’re bound by rules.

You might be thinking – which is better? Well, there are quite a few advantages of standard operating guidelines.

How are standard operating guidelines beneficial to your business?

Any organization requires a documentation process to improve its functionality. Most refer to SOPs as a default. 

SOGs definitely have benefits like SOPs. Though writing out these guidelines might take some time, the outcome is worth it.

Reduces training time

Any documented process cuts down on the time taken for an existing / new employee to adapt to workplace rules. Also, set KPIs for training and enablement programs. 

A 2019 report published in The International Journal of Business and Management Research indicates that 90 percent of employees agreed or strongly agreed that training improved their job performance.

A Workforce Mobility Survey suggests 51% of companies with successful onboarding programs are more apt to measure the productivity of their new employees.

Without SOGs, it gets difficult to track whether these processes are actually working. These allow employees to operate themselves at work smoothly.

Enables Better Understanding

Having your work responsibilities aptly described can enable you to immerse yourself in that role fully. Moreover, because SOGs have a more general approach, they can be relatable for all employees.

They easily accept the guidelines with little to no resistance. Making it easier to carry out their responsibilities effectively.

Encourages consistent performance

Performing duties without a checklist is possible, but having one ensures accuracy. When you have a document to look back at, you make sure nothing is being missed. That extra level of care enables a higher quality of work being performed.           

Helps evaluate performance

A SOG is a living document that should be updated every once in a while. This allows employees to be tested to determine whether they’ve reviewed each guideline properly.

The evaluation for both takes place in parallel. This makes it easier to see which areas of the SOG need improvement. In some cases, new and clearer guidelines can be set after analyzing the employees' feedback and responses. This breeds accountability in the business.

Allows interpretation according to the situation

Due to their flexibility, SOGs are better equipped to deal with vague or unclear cases. This doesn’t mean they don’t follow the policies and regulations set by the organization.

It lets variation occur naturally, so more special circumstances come up. That helps modify the operating guidelines accordingly, leading to a better documentation process.

It’s natural to focus on the positives. To paint a clear picture, it’s also essential to mention operating guideline challenges. It’s possible for standardization to limit creativity among employees. Even the World Economic Forum states that creativity is one of the essential skills that’ll drive change from 2020 to beyond.

At times, SOGs aren’t updated accordingly, this means employees are stuck with practices of the past. This also reduces the chances of innovation in an organization. Especially after the COVID-19 crisis, companies can’t afford to be behind.

According to a McKinsey report, only a quarter of respondents reported that capturing new growth was a top priority (first- or second-order). If that remains the case, it can stunt an organization.

However, despite the difficulties, having standardized documents brings more gain than harm.

Ultimate guide to building your own standard operating guidelines 

When writing documented processes, it’s often challenging to assess what to include. In that case, having a template is a blessing. It not only saves time, but it minimizes errors too. This also supports your organizational efforts in maintaining compliance.

Here’s how you can map out your SOG for the best results:

Step #1: Identify the purpose of the document

First, it’s important to understand why you need the SOG in your organization. Creating one just for the sake of having a standardized document isn’t enough. This can lead to a waste of time and resources, which could’ve been diverted elsewhere.

There should be an outcome the document should set out to achieve. Suppose, in a fire department, an SOG specifies how department activities are carried out in a safe & secure environment. This is to help reduce the loss of lives and property, it even extends to assistance in emergencies.

Step #2: Examine existing guidelines

You may already have set guidelines in your organization. Writing them down further solidifies their presence. However, make sure the current workflows are efficient and useful for employees.

Gather feedback from them regarding what they’d like to see in the document. If it doesn’t end up helping them, why bother? Once you’ve collected the necessary information, bring compliance & regulation to the table. Make sure what they’ve asked for ensures their well-being in the long run.

Step #3: Defining roles & responsibilities

Without having people in charge, a SOG can feel like a ship without a crew. You know that spells disaster, don’t you?

Setting specific roles ensures that the job is carried out properly. An ideal case would be elaborating all duties that fall under their jurisdiction. Apart from individuals, teams should also have set responsibilities to carry out. Each task should be identified in detail and consist of simple language.

These documents are supposed to make employees and their lives easier.

Step #4: Put those words on paper

Now, it’s time to flesh out the SOG, which will be the cornerstone of your organization. Go with language that’s easy to digest, and especially avoid jargon.

Ensure the guidelines are general enough for any employee. A good example would be the field operating documentation breaking down each task into various points. The actions should be in an active voice to remove any confusion.

Of course, writing it down isn’t simple. Use Scribe to document the process for you, so it makes the process transparent and more efficient.

Scribe is a process documentation tool that auto-captures your workflow to create a step-by-step guide. If you've ever been stuck writing and rewriting guides, or cluttering your desktop with screenshots — Scribe's the tool for you.

Here's a Scribe (that only 15 seconds to make) in action!

Step #5: Come to an agreement

Once your outline is ready, inform your employees of the written guidelines. Confirm whether they’re happy with the document and their responsibilities. 

If not, make changes that can enable a more productive workforce in the future. After churning out a final version, ensure all involved parties pull their weight accordingly.

The SOG can be subject to change as it’s not a static document. Periodically fine-tune the guidelines so you can identify whether you’re doing things right. You can even get third-party feedback from someone who’s never used the document.

Ramp up efficiency by creating SOGs with Scribe

In an organization, there’s so much to do. Finding enough hours in the day to create the perfect SOG can turn out stressful.

Scribe just makes it easier to finish any documentation process in record time. It instantly generates a step-by-step guide with texts and screenshots.

Even when carrying out tasks, Scribe can be a great tool for sharing information with your employees. This encourages productivity along with a more communicative work environment.

Ready to try Scribe?

Scribe automatically generates how-to guides and serves them to your team when they need them most. Save time, stay focused, help others.