Standard operating procedures are necessary because they put all of your company’s employees on the same page. The downside is that SOPs can be too restrictive and prevent your employees from being flexible when decisions need to be made. Your employees shouldn’t just be cogs in a machine. They still need to use their own judgment, and companies generally benefit from their employees’ creativity and innovation. The key is to write SOPs that are detailed and thorough, but also allow for flexibility.
There are some jobs that require more creativity than others. While a strictly outlined procedure may work well on a factory line, designers and other creative types that work for your company will need to rely more on their own judgment. For these job positions, general guidelines may work better. For example, you can tell writers to write compelling ad copy and give them some of the information they need without telling them exactly how to do it or what to say.
Some tasks require more standardization than others. For example, the way your employees should handle customer complaints is something you probably want to regulate very strictly to make sure errors aren’t made and all customers are treated fairly.
Flowcharts for Decision Making
Flowcharts offer a good in-between option by providing instructions and questions. By answering the given question, the employee is directed to the next set of instructions and questions. These can be objective questions such as, ‘Is the valve turned on?’ or subjective questions like, ‘Does the customer have a legitimate concern?’ Questions like the latter allow the employee to use his or her own judgment while still sticking to the procedure.
Examples for Clarification
You can teach your employees to better understand your company’s vision and help them learn to use their own judgment by providing examples with your SOPs. For creative job positions, give examples of what you consider to be good work. In dealing with customer service, safety issues, or other regular processes, provide stories for your employees. These stories can show what is good customer service, what is a safe manner of operation, and so on.
Include a Review Process
Where there is leeway needed for employees to carry out tasks, include in your SOPs a review process. With a review process, a manager observes the employees in their work and offers pointers on how to do it better. These pointers should be put into writing and given to the employees to use along with regular SOPs. Through this process, each employee gets a customized manual to work with.
Rely on Feedback
The best way to judge whether your SOPs are restrictive or not is to seek feedback from employees and managers. Encourage employees to tell you if they feel stifled or unsure of what to do. Include in your SOPs a standardized review process for receiving this feedback and making changes.