How to Effectively Distribute Your Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
HOW TO EFFECTIVELY DISTRIBUTE YOUR STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES (SOPS)
There’s no denying that Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are an integral part of maintaining business operations. After all, a good set of instructions goes a long way to promote efficiency, effectiveness, and success for any business.
But a good set of instructions does no good if they aren’t being properly disseminated to the people who need to use them.
In this article, we explore the reasons why you not only need SOPs and a good distribution system for them, but also how you can find the system that’s right for your company.
What is an SOP?
According to the IBM Knowledge Center, “A standard operating procedure is a set of instructions that describes all the relevant steps and activities of a process or procedure. Standard operating procedures are essential to an organization to deliver consistent, measured, high-quality responses to complex and unpredictable events.”
The SOP is a document that is used to describe the nuts and bolts of a process. A step-by-step road map of how to get from point A to point B.
It is often more fluid than a policy or procedure and can be changed to accommodate any revisions to a process as they happen.
For example, the SOP might spell out who would be responsible for a given task or set of tasks in a process. Should the person responsible for completing the task ever change, the SOP could easily be updated to reflect the change in delegation of responsibility or authority over a process.
Having a set of easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions is vital to ensuring that business tasks are performed consistently and efficiently. SOPs expand upon the information contained in a job description to help employees better understand the steps needed to fulfill job requirements.
Aside from helping to streamline internal processes, SOPs may also be a regulatory requirement, depending on the industry. This is especially true in cases where accreditation status is concerned, requiring SOPs be followed to the letter.
How do we get the word out and stress why it’s important?
While having clear and concise SOPs is essential for any company, having a way to disseminate those SOPs and ensure that they are understood and followed is just as important.
Without access to clear instructions, employees may not be able to complete tasks correctly or on time. Having an SOP to refer to is key to keeping systems moving effectively and efficiently.
SOPs can be distributed in a number of ways.
Whichever method you choose, it needs to be one that fits your business and the flow of work for your employees.
Paper Copy Distribution
Depending on the size of the company, one might be tempted to simply disseminate copies of SOPs on paper to the employees who need to be made aware of the steps for a given process.
The benefit of paper distribution is that employees have a hard copy that they can keep handy for easy reference.
This option isn’t as environmentally friendly as digital copies, but, depending on how often the SOP needs to be accessed, it can be helpful to have a hard copy available.
While this method may sound enticing, it is not the most effective way to distribute SOPs.
Paper copies can easily get misplaced or thrown out, leaving employees scrambling to get their hands on another copy.
Additionally, paper copies quickly become outdated when any updates are done to the SOPs. This can lead to confusion if employees are not using the most up-to-date version of the SOP.
If the document needs a broader audience, employers might send it out through an email distribution list in Microsoft Office or whatever email server the company uses.
The advantages of sending SOPs via email include broad distribution and quick delivery as well as a digital history of document distribution.
On the other hand, issues with email communications, such as employees not reading emails quickly or at all, problems with broken email address links, or other technical glitches could hinder the distribution process.
Email distribution also poses issues when it comes to storing the SOPs for easy access.
Unless employees are very organized and have a method for storing important documents in their email accounts, attempting to locate the email with the SOP attachment may be difficult.
And, as with paper copies, SOPs stored in employee emails can also cause issues with version control.
Workflow Portal Distribution
For companies that have multiple departments or more than one location, the use of a workflow portal or a document storage program should be considered.
Programs like Microsoft SharePoint allow for document assignments to move through a workflow from the draft stage to the distribution stage, often allowing for the process to be automated so that the information doesn’t fall through the cracks.
The benefits of using systems like SharePoint to organize and disseminate SOPs are that you have a digital history of the document’s distribution as well as an easy, automated process for getting the documents out to employees.
Additionally, any time an SOP is updated, the most recent version can be found in the portal.
The downside to workflow portals is that you often need a dedicated staff member to administer the site. Or, at the very least, employees need to be trained on how to access files in the document portal. This can take time and resources that the company may not have.
Despite the cost and training requirements, workflow portals are the most effective way to distribute SOPs. Not only do they allow for the SOPs to be automatically sent out to all of the users, they also act as a cloud-based file storage where the most up-to-date documents can live and be found quickly and easily.
Other Options to Consider
According to Workflow.com, there are a number of apps like SharePoint that can be used to drive the distribution process for SOPs. Some of these include: WorkZone, Box, Confluence, Wrike, Intranet Connections, Igloo, Liferay Social Office, Nuxio, and more.
These programs include either workflow capabilities or a simple cloud storage system that can organize information and make it accessible to employees who have permissions to access them.
Cost is measured either by the number of users or the amount of bandwidth needed to run the program.
And some of these programs can even be accessed for free.
There are also a number of vendors who specialize in designing document management programs that are tailored to companies’ specific business needs.
You can often find these by doing a quick internet search for document management systems.
Companies may choose a vendor to work more closely with them to personalize their document management system rather than purchasing a program that offers cookie cutter features.
How do I know the SOP was received and is being used?
Depending on the company culture, requirements, or regulatory commitments, it may be necessary for you to set up a document receipt process. This can be anything from having employees sign paper receipts or attaching a read receipt code to your email when you send out a new SOP.
Paper receipts are best for smaller companies where the signed receipt can easily be placed into an employee’s personnel file.
If you prefer electronic acknowledgements, requesting a read receipt in your email app is usually fairly simple and provides a time-stamped record of when the document was received by each employee and opened.
The intricacy of this process is completely up to the company’s leadership.
In addition to making sure employees receive the information, many employers may opt to have employees complete a quiz or assessment to show that they have read and understand the information provided.
This can be done on paper or through an online training portal as well.
The main thing to remember when working with SOPs is that it does no good to create an SOP if no one is reading it or using it.
Clear communication is always the key to successfully creating and implementing any business document. Be sure to research your options before selecting an SOP dissemination process so that you can choose the right program to fit both your company’s and your employees’ needs.
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