Best Practices for your SOPs

SOPs are used to create a standard operating procedure for any process or procedure in an organization. They are used by management and staff to ensure the same steps are followed each time a task is completed. Each unique task should have its own SOP, which means an organization may need to create hundreds of SOPs. In complex or large organizations, this process can easily mean thousands of SOPs are needed. 

In this post we will look at best practices, so you can ensure your SOPs maximize their effectiveness.

Why are they useful?

First off, let's consider some of the many reasons why SOPs are beneficial: 

1) They effectively create a process map outlining the steps needed in order to accomplish a task. 

2) Anyone following a SOP should arrive at the same successful outcome, even if they have never performed the task before.

3) They standardize working practices across an organization.

4) Following SOPs should mean that regulations, legislation and laws are adhered to.

So, now we know why they help, here are some best practice tips so you can also maximize their efficiency and effectiveness.

Best Practice Tips

1) Store your SOPs in one place

We have already suggested that your organization may need a large number of SOPs. Being able to easily find the relevant one when you need it need it helps tremendously.

Using one location for all of your SOPs can simplify the search process a lot. There is nothing worse than wasting precious time searching all over the shop for something you need urgently. Keeping all SOPs in one (well-known) location gives employees a one stop place to go and find what they need.

Using a standard naming convention can also help people find what they are looking for. This may include department names as well as the topic for the SOP. There are many different ways to achieve this. Work out what suits your organization best - and stick to it!

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2) Use standard formatting

Using a standard format for all of your sops provides a level of familiarity for your employees. Using a template means your SOPs follow the same format and are therefore easier for people to understand and follow. They will know where to find the information within the SOP and how to interpret information the SOP contains. In turn, they will be able to quickly find the information they need. It is a great way to ensure that every aspect of your organization follows the same guidelines.

This practice should cover the SOP layout as well as the font type and sizes used. Feel free to use this free downloadable template - or use it to get started and adjust it for your specific needs.

If you already use a template, you may like to consider linking some of its fields to an O365 library.

3) Use common language

Remember, the purpose of each SOP is to be understood and followed. Using simple or common language will mean your SOP has the best chance of being effective. If you do need to use technical terms or jargon, make sure they are defined in simple language so they can't be misinterpreted.

4) Ensure your SOPs are consistent

If your SOPs have been developed and changed over time, it is possible that they may contradict one another. You may also find duplicates, or worse, partial duplicates. As well as creating a single source of documents, you need to also ensure that each SOP is distinct and unique.

An SOP manual can help you achieve this. See this post on the benefits of having a SOPs manual.

5) Ensure all relevant employees receive them

Once you have created your SOPs, you need to ensure that the relevant employees receive a copy. This used to mean printing copies and distributing for signatures, before being returned to a dusty filing cabinet. Nowadays there are plenty of IT systems that can be used to digitally distribute SOPs and track who has and has not read them. IT systems can improve efficiency as well as saving countless reams of paper. They can also make investigations far easier should a problem occur, and you need to prove compliance.

Sometimes it may be necessary to "think outside the box" when deciding who needs to receive and follow a SOP. The employees who need to follow the SOP are the obvious choice. However, it may also be useful for their line manager to receive a copy. This way both know what is expected and the manager can also ensure the required standards are met. 

6) Ensure your SOPs are backed up with suitable training

It's essential to plan suitable training for your SOPs to ensure that relevant employees understand their importance. It's no good if you simply create a SOP, and then don't continue to ensure employees understand it. Remember to keep records of all training undertaken, they may come in handy should an incident occur. They will help you prove when and how an employee was trained.

7) Proactively remind employees about key SOPs

By proactively reminding employees about certain SOPs you can potentially avoid a mistake or non-compliance incident from occurring. Prevention is usually preferable to a cure, especially in high-risk industries, or where personal safety is involved. It is also important to highlight bad practices or instances when procedures are not being properly followed as soon as possible. This will allow for additional training to take place and potentially avoid an accident.

8) Review your SOPs regularly

After you have created your sops, the story doesn't end there. You need to continue to review them periodically to ensure they are still relevant and that new employees have also read them.

Annual reviews are likely to be sufficient, but some sops may need more frequent reviews. Remember that external changes can have an impact on your sops. Changes in legislation, technological advances as well as social standards may require a review of long-standing sops.

How DocRead can help

DocRead is a compliance solution that is compatible with Office 365 and on-premises versions of SharePoint. 

Standard operating procedures and other important information can be stored securely in SharePoint. SharePoint search, versioning, approvals and permissions all facilitate collaborative working practices. 

DocRead functionality allows you to send the SOPs to the right groups of people and track whether they have read/understood/accepted the compliance requirements.

A reporting suite provides access to proof of compliance and can be used for tracking and monitoring or as evidence should something go wrong.

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