5 Common Reasons Your Team Isn’t Using SOPs and How to Easily Fix Them
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5 Common Reasons Your Team Isn’t Using SOPs and How to Easily Fix Them
Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are like recipes for your business. They’re guides that tell you exactly what to do, who to contact, and which tools to use to achieve a certain result.
SOPs are crucial for onboarding, getting everyone to follow the same processes, and ensuring that your business is scalable. But what happens after you write the SOP? How do you get people to use and update it?
To avoid burning the cake because the recipe was poorly written, I’ll share some tips to get your team to maintain, use and share SOPs. And by the end of this piece, you’ll be able to take action to close the gap between SOP creation and usage.
What’s an SOP?
SOPs are guides that document step-by-step processes for specific topics. They need to be accessible by the people who follow the procedures outlined in them, and they should make people’s jobs easier. These documents are also crucial for onboarding new members and setting them up for success.
According to Michael Gerber in The E-Myth Revisited, “a system is a set of things, actions, ideas and information that interact with each other, and in so doing, alter other systems.” That way, SOPs are guides that enable you to work on your individual tasks, while building on to a bigger interconnected system.
Why are processes important for companies of any size?
Businesses of all sizes need to have their processes written down and easily accessible by everyone on the team.
Gerber used to say that the franchise model was the best example of how to build your business. Because, by thinking that your operations will be copied and reapplied in other locations that are aiming for the same result, you’ll build all your SOPs to be usable and prepare someone else to achieve the expected results simply by following them.
When customers go to a franchise like Starbucks, they expect that their caramel frappuccino will taste the same in California or Japan. To be able to get the same taste, texture, temperature and sweetness of the frappuccino, Starbucks needs to have recipes for its drinks.
If every company is built as if it were going to become a franchise, everyone would be able to follow the SOPs to get the same outcome. That means that whoever runs your business will be able to provide the same results even if there aren’t any experts around to ask. This franchise mentality also allows you to scale your business easily because onboarding usually relies heavily on processes. Processes are also beneficial because they:
Help reduce mistakes and delays in day-to-day tasks
Improve team efficiency and productivity
Foster team alignment
Improve customer and client satisfaction
5 reasons your SOPs aren’t effective and how to fix them
The biggest problem with SOPs isn’t that leaders don’t know their importance. Rather, they usually do them by themselves or foster their creation as a top-down approach to get people to follow a standardized procedure.
The most common reasons your team fails to follow SOPs according to Layla at ProcessDriven are:
1. They believe SOPs are optional
One of the most common reasons why people don’t use SOPs is because they don’t think they’re mandatory to use and follow. As a team leader, it’s your responsibility to make periodic reminders about the importance of following procedures.
To tackle this pain point, you can:
Add SOP reviews to meeting agendas. If you have a weekly team meeting, take five minutes to review a recurrent SOP and get people to comment on it to give feedback and suggest updates. You can also include this in the agenda of 1:1s with managers.
Set up a task for them to review in your task management tool. If you’re using a task management tool like Asana, ClickUp, or Monday.com, you can set a task for everyone on your team as a reminder to review and follow the procedure.
Leverage your managers or others. Get your managers to start giving feedback following the SOP. For example, instead of saying, “Always copy Julie on your change requests so she can make the invoice,” say, “Can you please copy Julie on the change request emails, as shown in the second step of the SOP?” And send them the link to review it.
Delegate ownership of each SOP. Get the person who’s actually handling the process to own the SOP, make changes and updates, and share them with the rest of the team when appropriate.
2. SOPs aren’t easy to find, or people don’t know of their existence
Another common reason that SOPs don’t live up to their full potential is that they aren’t centralized for everyone to access easily. SOPs are usually spread out in each person's cloud storage, and oftentimes, people don’t have permission to see the SOPs if they’re held on a team leader’s cloud.
The best way to solve this issue is to:
Centralize the info and communicate where it is. If you have an intranet, you can upload your documents to the cloud and have them appear there. If you build them on a task management tool, you can pin them to each project, create master sheets or have a shared knowledge base for everyone to find the SOPs they need.
Link the SOPs on important documents or systems. If you have people working on documents or systems that allow customization, link the commonly accessed SOP or related documents at the top. For example, if you’re a legal firm that writes contracts, you can add a box on the contract template that contains the SOP.
Use internal communication methods to share the links to relevant SOPs. If you have a Slack channel for corporate news or an email newsletter, take the opportunity to add a link to your SOPs as a reminder and for easy access.
3. People don’t find SOPs to be helpful
This is one of the most difficult challenges to overcome, but it’s also one of the most crucial. SOPs are helpful in nature, which means that if the person who uses them is not finding them useful, you need to understand why.
SOPs might not be helpful because they are:
Too broad or general
Written for a topic that doesn’t require an SOP
To solve this problem, you can:
Get doers to write their SOPs. This shouldn’t be an operations manager or team leader's responsibility. SOPs should be written by the person who does the process. That way, they’ll also become owners, ensuring everyone uses the processes they’ve created.
Set quarterly SOP checks. Set quarterly reminders for your team to review and update the SOPs they own. Invite them to get feedback from other users to ensure usability.
4. Users don’t trust the SOPs
Users stop trusting SOPs when they’re outdated or wrong, leading them to do the wrong thing, like sending an email to the wrong client, or writing the wrong tax information on an invoice. It’s harder to build trust in these procedures again after such errors, especially if the misleading instructions have caused the user to lose valuable time.
To overcome this challenge, you can:
Give everyone access to edit or comment on SOPs. That way, everyone will be encouraged to suggest changes, add new screenshots, or leave an additional comment on a task that’s not updated.
Add a box with the owner's information. This way users can contact the owners easily and ask for help or give feedback in case they think the SOP can be improved.
Set tasks on your preferred task manager for users to review before launch. Get users' input before you officially launch the SOP. This way, you get people to try to complete the process and give feedback beforehand.
5. People memorize or adjust their processes and don’t check the SOPs
If you have many people in the same role for some time, it’s common for them to do tasks mechanically or adjust processes to fit their own style without checking the SOPs. This isn’t a bad thing on its own, but it can lead to the SOP becoming outdated or unhelpful.
To overcome this pitfall, you can:
Make sure your SOPs are skimmable and searchable. If you make each subtitle a clear step that the user can follow, it’ll be easier for them to only read headings and follow the SOP. You can also add keywords to these headings so people can easily search and find answers.
Add a checklist at the end of tasks. If you use a task manager, you can create checklists under the habitual tasks for them to check before they change the task status to ‘complete’ or ‘done.’
Make them owners of the SOP. If you think someone is forgetting to follow the SOP, you can delegate ownership and request them to make changes or updates to the process.
Software that can help you create, follow up on and update SOPs
Standard operating procedures can live in your preferred cloud-based tool. Here are six ideas to create, update, share and host them:
Your preferred project management tool. If you use Asana, ClickUp, Monday.com, or any other project management platform, you can use their templates to create your SOPs and give everyone in your company access to an SOP folder.
Google Drive. Using Google Docs is a great way to make written SOPs that are collaborative. Google docs allows you to host the documents in one shared drive folder.
Use a step-by-step automated tool. There are several tools that let you create SOPs in real-time by recording your screen and following your pointer movements and clicks. Some options are:
Tango: records your screen and clicks to get a step-by-step process.
Scribe: get a bot to follow your movements and record your screen to get an editable SOP.
Business Documentation Software: uses the Work the System method to create SOPs. This tool also lets you store SOPs in real-time.
SystemHub: this tool lets you create, host, edit and share SOPs and any other related documents (like email templates).
TL;DR - How to get your people to use and update SOPs
Standard operating procedures, or SOPs, are step-by-step instructions that people use to complete a process. But it can be hard to get people to use and update them through time. These are five reasons your people aren’t using SOPs:
They find them to be optional
They aren’t easy to find
They aren’t helpful
They don’t trust them
They follow processes by memory
To ensure everyone has access to the procedures, and can edit, update and share with others, you can use Google docs, any task management system, or automated SOP tools like Tango or Scribe.
What do you do to get your team to use SOPs? Leave a comment!
Thanks for reading,
Edited by: Lauren Maslen
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