5 Ways SOP Documents Can Protect Your Business

10 Jan 2023


According to recent data, only about 1.5 percent of all businesses and organizations document their Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Of the few that do, only about 25 percent update them regularly. But are SOPs necessary for every business?

Here, you will learn what Standard Operating Procedures are and how they function within your business. You will also get an idea of how they protect you from chaos, often leading to increased liability. Then, you can decide if hiring a technical writer makes sense for your organization.

What are Standard Operating Procedures?

SOPs provide written procedures and detailed information on how to complete a process or work function. They often include:

  • Step-by-step instructions on performing a task
  • Warnings and cautions
  • Company objectives
  • Health and safety information
  • Rules and regulations
  • Schedules and key dates

Whatever the format, you should always try to remain consistent with your messaging across all distributed pieces of information. In addition, SOPs must contain clear, concise language the intended audience can easily understand.

Types of SOPs

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Below are the various types of SOPs you may encounter as a consumer, employee, or manager. Each one serves a specific purpose and can stand alone or be used together in one document.

Work Instructions

Work instructions show team members how to do specific tasks. For example:

  • How to drive a forklift
  • How to operate a cash register
  • Instructions on closing a retail store at night
  • Steps to ensure employee compliance 

These and other routine operations are all written so the worker performing the task can quickly obtain valuable information and no longer rely on human memory, which can often fail under pressure. The employee can now function within their position without running to a manager whenever they have questions.


Checklists provide information so that users or operators don’t have to rely on memory. They can utilize checklists for routine tasks where neglecting certain steps may prove catastrophic.

Here are some common examples of checklists used by professionals throughout several industries:

  • Pre-flight checklists allow pilots and flight crew to examine aircraft before takeoff.
  • Engineering checklists provide quality assurance and compliance with standardized codes.
  • Medical checklists help doctors and nursing staff choose the proper procedures and medication for their patients.
  • Litigation checklists aid attorneys in discovery and motions practice.

It is not enough to simply write some numbered instructions on paper. The design and formatting should fit the purpose of the checklist. In addition, checklists must convey a sense of helping the user rather than serving as a means for management to control employee behavior.


Unlike work instructions and checklists, procedure documents provide a broad overview of tasks that go into a job without giving detailed instructions. For example, an aircraft engine maintenance procedure manual may include the following:

  • 28-day Inspection: Fuel filter replacement/Hydraulic fluid check
  • 56-day inspection: Turbine inlet temperature check/Hydraulic fluid replacement
  • 112-day inspection: Fire suppression system check/Non-destructive inspection of turbine shaft
  • 224-day inspection: Light overhaul

To perform each task, the maintenance technician would refer to the work instructions. Then, the quality assurance inspector would rely on a checklist to ensure nothing was left out.

Workflow Documents

A workflow document shows a sequence of operations that, when followed precisely, will achieve a desired outcome. It typically depicts a series of boxes and arrows pointing to each task in the process.

The most common example of a workflow document is a troubleshooting chart.

Best Practices

Best practices are techniques or methods found to be superior within a specific industry. They become a standard way of performing tasks for businesses within these industries and provide a way of calling out non-compliance. They serve as an alternative to legislation and are typically self-governed.

Codes of Conduct

A company’s code of conduct relays the message of what the company expects from each employee. It is a set of rules to work by, and it functions well for businesses of all sizes.

The code of conduct represents the organization’s principles, standards, and values. It outlines acceptable behavior to follow and respects the rights of everyone in the company.

How can SOPs protect your business?

SOPs serve as a reference guide for employees who follow specific procedures. However, they are more than a simple list of instructions. They also protect your business in five important ways:

1. Litigation

You open up your business to litigation and catastrophic outcomes when you don’t have proper SOPs in place. For example, consider the employee who accidentally starts a fire in your warehouse because they didn’t follow proper procedures.

While it may seem unlikely and even hyperbolic to suggest such an event occurring, it can happen.

If only the employee had the proper procedures in writing, the fire may have been prevented.

Catastrophic events can also trigger lawsuits, which means court costs, attorney’s fees, and even large payouts to plaintiffs.

SOPs provide a detailed set of instructions for performing a specific task. If they are well-written and delivered in the proper format, SOPs can reduce errors and lower your company’s risk.

2. Customer Dissatisfaction

Manufacturers need documented procedures to ensure the highest quality merchandise. Even if you don’t make your own products, you still must ensure proper processing and order fulfillment. Customers expect to receive their products or services on time, every time.

Without SOPs in place, your business operations could break down. For example, if the only person in your company who knows how to package toy robots resigns, others will be left wondering what to do. Having written instructions in place will give them a starting point to figure it out.

Consumers want products and services that are of the highest quality, without fail. To meet this demand, SOPs ensure that everyone involved in production operations knows how to perform their assigned tasks.

3. Employee Turnover

The number one reason for employee turnover is not lack of money. Instead, it’s the company’s failure to convey its policies and procedures at all levels. A worker without direction will eventually quit.

Companies with clearly written SOPs motivate their employees to buy into the brand’s culture. However, it’s not enough to simply shout it over an intercom system. You must write it down, so every team member knows why their position is vital to your business.

Another reason employees quit is perceived management problems. When overwhelmed by not knowing what to do, they often feel neglected and blame their manager.

You can reduce this problem significantly by providing your workers with detailed, written instructions. Employees who feel confident in their job will stick around a lot longer.

4. Workplace Accidents

Emphasizing production while ignoring safety can cost your business long-term. SOPs help reduce workplace accidents and their associated costs by warning personnel of possible hazards.

Outlining correct procedures helps managers coach junior team members on safe ways to perform a task. SOPs offer a standardized list of instructions to help facilitate proper workforce training.

5. Regulatory Non-compliance

Without SOPs in place, you become a target for government inspectors and investigators. You signal to these people that your business is not set up to follow current regulations.

SOPs offer a way to ensure that everyone in the company does what is required. They also help to explain why following current laws is vital to the life of your organization.

How to Ensure Your SOPs Are Up to Par

Once your SOPs have been in place for over six months, it’s time to review them. Here are some simple steps to accomplish that:

1. Nominate your reviewers.

For each work task, nominate an experienced employee or QC (Quality Control) manager to review the section most relevant to their department. They should be subject matter experts (SMEs) in their field and have the appropriate training and experience to provide input.

2. Review your documents.

Ensure all teams know how to review the document for correctness and relevance to their departments. If the SOP is outdated due to technological changes, be sure to make the necessary corrections. Sometimes, you may need to start over with a new document.

3. Update your SOPs.

Now, it’s time to implement any changes to the document. It’s also a good idea to hire a competent editor to sift through any grammatical errors or inconsistencies with the formatting. Remember, be sure to update your SOPs regularly at six-month intervals.

4. Test your documents.

Before publishing your document, you should test it to see if it will create the impact you desire. This means utilizing humans instead of algorithms to read it.

5. Publish your SOPs.

Now that you’ve tested your SOPs, you must have a reliable solution for disseminating the information. Everyone in your organization should be able to find the documents quickly, without having to ask a manager where to locate them.

6. Hire a professional.

If you find that your internal staff lacks the time or writing skills to complete your SOPs, you may want to consider enlisting professional help.

Once you decide to hire a writing agency, be sure to look for these qualities in its writers:

  • Expertise. Expert technical writers know how to convert complex subjects into manageable pieces of information.
  • Superior grammar skills. The professionals at writing agencies have editing experience and are detail oriented.
  • Proficiency. Today’s digital landscape demands the highest level of proficiency with the latest technical writing tools. 
  • Adaptability. The best technical writers adapt quickly to match your brand’s voice throughout the document.
  • Creativity. While your business processes remain logical, it takes ingenuity to present them in a format the average worker can understand.

By hiring a writing agency to manage your company’s SOPs, you not only ensure that they are comprehensive and well written. You also can feel confident that you are in full compliance with all necessary industry standards.


One Final Point

There are many reasons for establishing SOPs for your company. Maybe you want to:

  • Standardize your workflow processes effectively
  • Explain a particular procedure within a workstation
  • Develop a system for maintaining quality standards
  • Improve safety compliance across all departments 

Whatever the case, your organization’s SMEs may not have the writing skills necessary to pull it off. You need a process for getting your SOPs to your stakeholders as quickly and efficiently as possible. Therefore, it may be time to hire a writing agency to handle it for you.

Steve Epperson 

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