Taking standard out of standard operating procedures

Oct. 24, 2016
Just because you are implementing new procedures doesn’t mean they are written in stone. They should remain alive and adaptable. Keeping them alive will allow you to make incremental changes as your operation adapts to new situations.

There are a variety of programs available today to bring your shop into the 21st century. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) have great processes that were developed over time and formulated into a neat package for mass distribution. While all these processes have been proven in other shops they are unproven in your shop, where you need them to work.

I am not knocking the developers of SOPs. I just think the word standard needs to be taken out of the name. I worked for 16 weeks developing processes to standardize the operations of a 26-shop MSO in western Michigan. I used proven best practices as well as procedures the shop had in place.

I did not walk into their main office with a thick book telling them, “Here is how we are going to change your shop.” I talked to them, visited their shops and took many notes with the thought that they had been in business for a while so they must be doing something right. By doing that, I gained the respect of the owner, buy-in from the employees and was able to develop a set of processes to standardize their business and ensure sustainability.

No two shops operate the same; however, they all are working toward the same goal. They just have different chemistry that requires different procedures. To make SOPs successful, the employees must feel comfortable using the system. All the employees have been doing their job and feel they are doing well. If you disrupt their day-to-day process without buy-in you will get resistance to the changes. Having their buy-in is needed to ensure what is put into place sticks. Without buy-in, you will get drift, movement from the process you developed, as they head back to the way they always worked.

Reviewing SOP programs provided by different companies is a good start. They are full of ideas that have been tested by the creators. Pick one program that looks most like your operation and then dissect it and develop an outline from the information provided.

Once you have developed a strong outline of how you want to shape your business, it’s time to involve your people. Allow your team time to review the outline, add their thoughts and ideas, and modify the outline based on their input. Now you need to test the process and put it into action. It’s important to be cautious, work one process at a time and see how changing one process affects another. Also remember this is a testing period, not an implementation period.

During the testing period it is important to talk and listen to your people to ensure things are moving in the direction you intended. Talking to them will keep them focused and more receptive to the changes. Listen to them when they have ideas to improve the process and encourage them to share their ideas.

Remember, this is a testing period. There are no bad ideas. Involve the people who perform the daily duties. Allow them to integrate some of the good habits they have created to be efficient as you test and fine-tune. We have all heard the adage every action has a reaction. As you test the new processes pay attention to what those changes affect. You do not want to create more issues as you move forward.

You may need to take a step back and review the impact of your new procedures. The easiest way to do that is to involve the people the new process affected. Discuss the change, how it affected their area and gather ideas on how the conflict can be resolved.

After the new procedures have been tested and all conflicts have been resolved, it’s time to implement the new procedures. This involves training the people not involved in the testing process so you can bring them up to speed on the new procedures. Implementation is not a time to make changes to the procedure, but it is also not a time to be rigid. Allow the process to be put in place as tested but acknowledge that the newly trained people might have ideas too.

Just because you are implementing new procedures doesn’t mean they are written in stone. They should remain alive and adaptable. Keeping them alive will allow you to make incremental changes as your operation adapts to new situations. Just as you did during the testing, you will need to discuss your new changes with the people performing the procedure. In some cases they will be the ones telling you the change is needed.

Your ultimate goal with any procedure is to ensure repeatability of the process. Once you have achieved that you will enjoy more harmony in your business. Keeping your people involved will foster creativity and give you the sustainability needed to bring your business continued success.

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