Imagine a workplace where every employee has their own way of doing things: no standardized processes or established methodologies, just a “catch-as-catch-can” attitude from your staff. The company’s efficiency would plummet, and their bottom line would follow soon after. Even the most experienced 3PL company needs its own logistics to guide internal operations. Otherwise, chaos reigns supreme.
Depending on the scope of your business, internal operating procedures can be complex. Throwing too many rules at your employees can have a similar effect; productivity will grind to a halt in the face of long-winded regulation.
Albert Einstein summed it up best when he said, “I don’t need to know everything, I just need to know where to find it, when I need it.” Thus, the importance —and convenience— of well-written SOPs.
What are SOPs?
SOP stands for “Stand Operating Procedures.” Standard operating procedures provide written guidance that helps your staff perform business-critical tasks. SOPs usually consist of a set of step-by-step instructions detailing common and essential tasks your employees perform on a regular basis. For companies that utilize SOPs to communicate key business practices, chances are there is a procedure in place for everything from proper equipment use, such as forklifts, steer skids, and balers, to floor procedures like packing shipments and unloading freight. Your company’s range of SOPs must be all-encompassing, containing information on all manner of employee competencies.
The advantage of compiling written operating procedures is twofold:
To save time and resources on new hire training
To give existing employees a reference point for future questions
SOPs are predicated on efficiency and ease of use. Therefore, a well-written set of standard operating procedures must be crafted with certain considerations in mind. Otherwise, it may prove to be counter-productive. The goal is to make a living framework that not only helps guide your employees when they encounter difficult, real-world scenarios, but also to establish a resource that evolves with the needs of your business over time.
Below are some key considerations meant to make your SOPs more impactful to your workforce.
Writing Impactful, Easy-to-use SOPs
SOPs are a treasure trove of work-related guidance. Good SOPs provide your employees with a high-level framework that gives them enough leverage to solve problems autonomously while remaining in compliance with a standardized set of procedures. For your SOPs to work correctly, your resource library must be accessible. The process of standardizing your work procedures must be a part of your company culture, ingrained in your team as a habit.
General Anatomy of an SOP
Before dealing with the specific information contained in the SOP, there are a few basic pieces of information that every consolidated operating procedure should contain. Those elements include:
Purpose of the document
Scope of the activities involved
Regulatory requirements involved
Step-by-step description of the procedures
The preceding elements represent a framework for your SOP; the bare-bones content necessary to describe the scope and practice of the task. The way you compile that information is what makes the operating procedure truly come alive.
Writing for the Reader
As with any type of writing, the very first thing you must do is consider your audience. When creating your document, always remember you are writing for your employees, not your company’s c-level executives. Keep in mind your frontline workers and their prerequisite knowledge. Identify whether the SOP is aimed at a skilled and credentialed professional or at apprentice-level employees just beginning their careers.
Writing for your reader also involves establishing a clear intention for your document. Is it meant to be a high-level overview of the task, or does this specific document deal with a specific task’s minutiae? To make your written procedures truly shine, spend the time and effort to properly establish their scope and adapt the writing for the responsible parties involved.
Your SOPs should serve as a living document. That means that they must evolve over time and respond to your business’s needs —specifically your employees. Getting the policy to paper is only the first step in the process. Once the networks are established, your team should collaborate on the content to reflect your work environment and the needs therein.
Involve the voice and opinion of as many frontline workers as possible; they are your eyes on the ground, and their feedback is extremely valuable when it comes to safety and efficiency.
Once the core document is established, make sure that you and your team revisit it often, on a yearly basis at the bare minimum, to evaluate if the document still reflects your business’s operations and values.
Consider the Document’s Length
The age-old advice applies: keep it simple. The point of a well-written SOP isn’t to enumerate every single contingency but rather to establish an operating framework for your employees to work within. While you might be tempted to write long, all-inclusive policies and procedures, don’t let your passion for the business get the best of you. If the document is too long and wordy, your employees are more likely to gloss over content without absorbing critical information. Make your content short, digestible, and straight to the point.
Consider Your Formatting as Well
Finally, be mindful of your document’s formatting as well as its length. Workplace situations happen in real-time, especially in the 3PL and warehousing arena. When your employees have a question, they need immediate feedback. They aren’t looking to read a doctoral thesis on the merits of workplace safety—they want to locate the answer quickly in order to resolve the problem without complication.
Consider putting your SOP into an easy-to-read format that it can be quickly scanned. This includes using bullet points, headings, frames, and even a common form for all your SOPs. Don’t overwrite. Again, keep your formatting and content simple.
Making Information Accessible
There’s no point in writing a brilliant and thorough operating procedure if the information isn’t readily available to all your employees. Make sure to encourage the democratization of critical policies and procedures by making your SOPs easy to locate. Your SOP library should be a key component of your employee onboarding program, empowering all your employees, old and new, to exercise workplace efficacy.
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