How to Compile a Basic Standard Operating Procedure Manual
Many workplaces have a multitude of policies, rules, and regulations and seldom are they all in one handy place for easy reference. Many large, established companies have massive SOPs with footnotes, documentation, and revision protocols. How To instructions for SOP creation often are directed at employees of such companies or consultants that work for such companies. More common than the need for that massive SOP is the need for a simple plan for gathering existing policy in one place. For those who need to compile, rather than write, a basic, brief SOP to ensure smooth operations, your SOP does not require a professional consultant or a technical writer. All you need is a good plan. Putting together an SOP does not have to be a difficult task and it can be completed in a few days or weeks.
Why Create an SOP
Communication: Information is power. Employees work better when they are well-informed, are able to perform their jobs autonomously, and are able to feel effective in completing tasks. Management can feel confident that daily operations are running smoothly.
Clarity: Verbal communication often leads to misunderstandings. An SOP decreases errors and mistakes, conflict, and enhances the feeling of fairness and equity in the workplace.
Liability: Policy statements protect employers in areas of potential liability and personnel matters. The SOP provides assurance that all employees have access to those policies.
Smooth Operations: This is the reason you want an SOP – to create smooth operations in the workplace. Ideally, your SOP will ensure that employees know the policies, rules, regulations, standardized methods for accomplishing specific tasks and goals.
Your SOP Plan
Purpose: Your basic SOP will focus mostly on procedure with some critical policy content. If your workplace does not have Personnel or Policy Manuals, the basic SOP is a good foundation for a more policy-focused document in the future. For a basic SOP, the appropriate purpose is to assist employees in the daily operations of the workplace and to ensure that critical company policies are followed. Additionally, the basic SOP should be brief, simply written, and easily accessible for all employees.
Audience: Your basic SOP is intended for all employees and as such, should include company-wide procedures and policies. This is important to remember as you determine content, the level of writing, and the scope of information. For instance, your basic SOP does not need to include the legal foundation for policy, just the actual statement of policy.
Access: How will the SOP be accessed? It is best to have an online source and a paper copy for all employees. A company Intranet, if available, is the best place for your digital SOP copy. In addition, each employee should have a paper copy.
Content: Determine your content and understand the different types. Policy includes official statements from management that are non-negotiable. Procedures- which can be rules, regulations, or guidelines - are lesser directives and might include items such as break room etiquette or guidelines for using office equipment. Each entry should clearly state what type of content it is –policy or procedure - in order to provide clarity to employees.
Formatting: Determine your formatting. This decision should be informed by the workplace culture – highly professional, informal, etc. Choose a format (headings, margins, font, bulleted points, etc.) and stick to it throughout the document. Use headings to break up text. For your online version, your table of contents should include hyperlinks to take readers directly to text. Search the Internet for SOP templates.
Documentation: Your Documentation File is the source and authority for all information in your SOP. Set up a Documentation file, both a digital file and a paper file. What is documentation? Any form, letter, memorandum, email, or other document which includes policy, rules, or regulations and is from a member of management or supervision. Often, as you put together a Documentation File you will discover that management prefers to provide a more official documentation of policy than currently exists. Also, as you document policy, you may find that an important issue does not have an official policy and you need to request that management provide one. Documentation that is available only in a paper copy should be scanned for inclusion in the digital documentation file. As part of your Documentation File, make a Documentation Content List and list all documents in the file. Include for each document the title, the author, and dates of creation and revisions. Place the list in the front of the documentation folder.
Summarizing the Content: Remember to keep it brief and simple. Summarize your documentation to create brief, clear statements of policy. For instance, a two page document on the legalities of ensuring that no employee is sexually harassed can be distilled to one statement for the SOP: XYZ Company does not tolerate or allow any form of harassment and such behavior can and will result in termination of the offending employee. Another example, the bad weather policy may be three paragraphs long, but for purposes of the SOP it can say, simply, that XYZ’s Bad Weather policy follows that of the local public school system. Avoid jargon and abbreviations which could lead to lack of clarity. Your Documentation File provides background for your SOP and employees should be referred to that resource for additional clarification.
Examples of Policies to Include: Use one page for policies concerning Business Hours and Work Hours; Attendance, Leave, Lunch Hour, and Tardy Policies; Adverse Weather; and Emergencies. Use one page for official company policy statements concerning Harassment; Drug Use; Non-discrimination; and business-specific policies regarding involvement with outside groups.
Examples of Procedures Include: For your basic SOP that focuses on procedure, this section will have the most content. The goal is to provide guidelines that provide “at-a-glance” information to busy employees. Include here information about access to the workplace; office keys; use of office equipment; and use of the internet, computers, and telephones. Include the position (not the name of the person) responsible for specific tasks such as maintenance of office equipment, ordering supplies, contacting service workers or contractors, responding to media, etc. You will have more workplace-specific content that you will want to include. For instance, many SOPs include travel and reimbursement procedures or how to submit Intranet content.
Disclaimer: Remember to include a statement that the SOP is not all-inclusive and employees should ask a supervisor if in doubt or if there are questions about anything that is not included in the SOP.
Creativity: If the style is acceptable to management, the use of graphic art and attention-getters make the SOP more user-friendly. One office manager used quotes at the bottom of each page about volunteerism, perfect for an organization that recruits volunteers. Another used graphic art on the Intranet copy of the SOP – stop signs, different colors for policy, and art related to each section. This is a matter of taste about which you should consult management.
The Finished Product: Proofread your document and check all entries against your Documentation File. Remember to get approval from management before distributing the SOP. Your finished SOP should be clean, brief, well-formatted, and bound in such a way that makes it a handy desk reference.
Distribution: Distribution of an official SOP should be accompanied by a memorandum from management which confers official status to the SOP. Ideally, this memorandum will be included as the first page of the SOP. Depending on the preferences of management, employees may be required to sign a statement attesting to their receipt of the SOP, so remember to create a form for that purpose.
Revisions: Decide who is responsible for revisions, both the paper copy and the digital version. Remember to update your Documentation Folder for each revision. Revisions should be made immediately to any online copy of your SOP. Determine how often, and how, official revisions will be made to paper copies of the SOP. Remember to update your Documentation File and List for each revision.
Now you have a plan for creating a basic SOP. Take what works in your workplace environment and get started. Researching on the Internet is a good place to start since many SOPs are on line. You can also find SOP templates online. Remember to keep it simple – your basic SOP is simply a communication tool to enhance the day-to-day operations of your workplace.