Did you ever wonder why the food you get from a chain restaurant in one city is exactly the same as in any other city? One of the biggest reasons is that these types of companies use a tool called standard operating procedure, or SOP.
SOPs are used across all industries, and many organizations use dozens of them to ensure consistently high-quality work across the entire team. SOPs can consist of a simple bulleted list of action items, but effective employee onboarding and training benefits from the introduction of visual elements.
Let’s look at the basics of SOPs, why your organization needs them and why using a tool like Venngage for Training and Development can help engage your team, making your training and development efforts stronger.
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What is SOP?
SOP stands for “standard operating procedure,” a set of step-by-step instructions for completing a task. If you’ve ever put together IKEA furniture, you’ve encountered a version of a standard operating procedure in the form of the instruction manual.
When they’re used across an organization for many different types of tasks, SOPs help ensure consistency and quality. Possible SOPs include:
- Call center escalation matrix
- Publishing checklist
- Claims process
- Maintenance checklist
- Performance review
- Disaster preparedness
- HR checklist
- Safety procedure
What is SOP format?
There is no single format for SOPs, and in most organizations, team members will need access to several SOPs, as they will certainly be performing more than one single task. But the most effective SOP formats include checklists, presentations, handouts and infographics.
How long should SOP be?
It sounds glib, but SOPs should be as long as they need to be. While it’s important not to overwhelm team members—especially new hires—worrying too much about SOP length could mean you leave out or shortchange certain tasks.
What are the different types of SOP?
Because the purpose of standard operating procedures depends on the task at hand, there are many types of SOP. But their goals are all the same: create consistently high-quality work that can be repeated over time.
Let’s look at a few examples of SOP formats that you can use in your organization.
Understanding the flow of problems is important in a customer service context, so organizations that have call centers or big customer service departments would benefit from SOPs designed like an escalation matrix.
SOP documents that help team members navigate tricky situations are particularly helpful in training new workers or getting veterans up to speed on a new process or system.
Standard work instructions
At their most crucial SOPs are meant to help people understand exactly how to do their jobs. Sometimes, guidance is broad, but often, tasks need to be explained in detail. Process explanations and standard work instructions can be useful for just about any job in your organization.
Processes that need to be replicated are the most natural fit for creating standard operating procedure documentation for your entire team, and when the topic is something financial or legal, it’s useful to create physical documentation that people have to sign.
In addition to explaining procedures, good SOPs eventually become routine. That’s important in tasks that happen annually, which might be more difficult for people to remember. Expectations are clear for both the employee and their manager despite the fact that the document itself is quite short.
Standard work instruction documents can also be extremely detailed, which is important for many jobs. In this example, customer-facing team members must understand exactly the process they are to follow, as ensuring a consistent customer experience is critical for any organization.
Just about every organization in the world has meetings, and nobody wants to hear the dreaded, “This could have been an email” refrain. Set clear, actionable and effective agendas for all meetings by following this SOP sample.
Manuals and documentation
New team members typically get a massive download of information in their first period with a company. This can be overwhelming and less-than-effective thanks to data overload.
Consider including in your onboarding documentation SOPs like manuals for tasks the employee will need to understand.
This example covers equipment necessary for the new team member to do their job, but it could apply to other aspects of employee manuals or handbooks. Signature pages reinforce accountability as it helps ensure team members have actually read the document they signed.
Providing guidance about how much time each task should take gives new team members something to shoot for. While they may take longer for each task in the beginning, as this example shows, a target window should always be included.
Checklists are incredibly versatile and useful SOP tools because everyone understands at a glance what their purpose is. Create checklist SOPs for many jobs across your organization and you’ll soon see team members master each task.
This checklist was designed to help streamline and track progress on an audit, but consider a color-coded approach like this to explain jobs with many steps that will take a number of days or even weeks to complete.
If you want to see more SOP checklist examples, check out our blog post on 15+ SOP checklists for enhanced productivity and smoother training.
While detail is sometimes useful, it’s not always necessary. By creating a broad process illustration, you can help your team members understand the shape of the task at hand but give them enough freedom to manage it themselves.
A process SOP like this would be ideal for a sales team, of course. You can also customize it to use for any other role where a project will go through many phases and there’s a specific order to those phases. The goal is that while employees learn the process as well as why the steps take place in that order.
Why you should use visuals in your standard operating procedures
Think of when you need to build a chair or a desk you buy from IKEA. Would you prefer instructions with detailed visuals explaining each step, or would you prefer them text-only?
The same thing applies to standard operating procedures. If you’re considering writing an SOP yourself, make sure you include lots of visuals.
This doesn’t extend to just instruction manuals. As you can see from the many SOP examples above, including visual assets and data visualizations in your SOP makes it easier for people to understand and remember the information, which means there’s a higher chance of them properly following the given instruction.
Here’s an example of an SOP that makes really good use of visuals:
For more SOP checklist templates like this, check out our blog on 15+ Standard Operating Procedure Checklists for Better Workflow and Smoother Training.
Our users have seen an increase in people’s buy-in and understanding of procedures that are generally hard to take in, by using more visuals with instructions.
Arun Raman, Change and Learning Consultant at BaptistCare, saw an increase to 70% in uptake (action taken) rates when using infographics in BaptistCare’s Internal MMS.
Here’s what he said about using visuals (infographics) in workplace training materials:
If you want to learn more, check out this case study:
Standard operating procedure FAQ
Do you have more questions about creating a standard operating procedure? We have answers.
What is the role of standard operating procedures?
Standard operating procedure documents ensure consistently high-quality work performance and results across an organization. They are used both for new hires and for training existing team members on new equipment, procedures or tasks.
Why are standard operating procedures used in business?
Training and staff development are the primary reasons to use standard operating procedures in business. Effective SOPs become a go-to resource for team members to reinforce their training, and they ensure all necessary steps to complete a task are done every single time.
In summary: Make your standard operating procedure documentation more engaging with visuals
Using Venngage for Training and Development can inject life into otherwise boring corporate communications like SOP documents and forms. Keep your team engaged by creating polished SOP documents for new hires and existing employees. It’s free to get started—no design experience required.