- Do your team members come to you repeatedly with the same types of questions?
- Is it sometimes hard to make sure inexperienced staff gets trained on all the right stuff?
- Are your employees making more mistakes than you think is acceptable?
If you’ve grown a business or organization yourself or have worked in one for any length of time, you’ve become an expert on how to take hundreds of steps that make the day-to-day operations run. However, transferring that information to your team so they know what you expect and how to do it correctly every time can be a daunting task.
I’ve learned over a lifetime of working that even the simplest tasks are not easy when you first learn them. Also, how you learn to do a task and the way you remember it are not always the same. We’re all human; we forget stuff.
The simple act of writing a set of standard operating procedures will ensure the success of you and your team.
A Supervisor’s Best Friend
A client told me that because there wasn’t a lot of turnover in her organization, offboarding an employee only came up occasionally. She was spending hours trying to remember all the steps she needed to take, systems to remove the person from, and forms to complete to process the person out.
This is a fitting example of where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Investing the time once to capture the procedure saved her hours of time and a ton of frustration down the road and increased her confidence that she was not missing anything.
A procedure, sometimes referred to as a standard operating procedure or SOP for short, is simply a detailed, step-by-step description of a work process.
Procedures are a supervisor’s best friend. They can be a foundational tool for training, and they free up your time usually spent answering repeat questions, reduce errors, set clear expectations, and enable others to be the backup. All these things set the stage for increased individual accountability.
Make it Simple
The most stress-free way to approach putting procedures in place is the same as the best way to eat an elephant…one bite at a time!
First Bite: Decide where to start
Don’t try to sit down to tackle all the procedures at once, you’ve got other pressing work to do. Rather, use this list as a guide of where to begin. Think about tasks that:
- Someone will perform it again, even if it may be months down the road
- Will be taught to someone
- No one else knows how to do but you
- Others asked you questions about 3+ times in the last 3 months
- Have frequent errors
Feel free to use other measures of significance, but this should give you a quick place to start.
There are certain aspects of work that can’t be put into a procedure because they require judgment and extreme flexibility. But once you start documenting processes, it’ll amaze you how much can be articulated!
Even decision-making factors are helpful to have documented. What you think are crucial factors may not be the things that occur to others. This is one of many ways procedures serve a team: getting everyone on the same page.
Second Bite: Invest a small amount of time
Next time you or a staff member begin a task that you chose to start with above, invest 25% more time now to begin to document the steps of the process. Don’t try to do it all; just start.
For example, if the work normally takes 1 hour, add in another 15 minutes to capture what you are doing. Repeat that the next few times when doing the task. Before you know it, it’s finished!
As you begin documenting, pretend you’re teaching someone else the job. Write down every step, what position does the task, how long it should take, any deadlines that may be relevant, where documents, files, or supplies are, and anything else a person needs to know when approaching the task knowing nothing.
Third Bite: Have someone follow the procedure
The best test of whether a procedure serves its purpose is to have someone who is not familiar with the task do the task using the procedure as a guide. The points where they have questions or make mistakes are places where you need to do some tweaking.
This is also a fantastic way to let a team member begin to learn another set of duties!
Where Not to Spend Valuable Time
When putting procedures in place, don’t let grammar and formatting hang you up. That can slow down or completely stall progress.
Make it pretty and perfect later. In fact, let someone else do it, such as a virtual assistant. (Click here to check out my favorite, Elite Virtual Assistants!) Focus your and your team’s time on getting the process documented accurately.
Remember that although procedures should be correct to be effective, they’re not set in stone like policies typically are. The procedures should evolve over time as you continually improve processes. In effect, documenting work tasks in this way often uncovers areas for process improvement!
Always Have a Plan B
Still not sold on the value of written procedures? Think of it as an insurance policy. If you or one of your team members have operational information only in their head, what happens if something takes that person out of the workplace for a while?
In business, it’s essential to always have a plan B in place. If you were sidelined for a month, a trusted staff member must be able to open a procedure and keep things moving. Procedures can save you and your staff time and reduce errors; both of which could save the business or organization lots of money.
What three work processes will you invest time in documenting this week?
Leave your answer in a comment below as an inspiration for others!
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