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"Develop an Obsession with Standard Operating Procedures"

Tulgan, Bruce
Posted by Tulgan, Bruce at Sunday, 05/09/2010 11:22 pm
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3.2 from 81 votes
It's amazing how often best practices remain hidden below the radar in companies. Smart companies are always looking for experienced people on the front lines who have developed the most effective way to accomplish a task or responsibility. When they identify a better way of doing something, they call it a "best practice." But the real trick is getting employees throughout the company to adopt these best practices.

The best way to engage employees in adopting best practices is to convert them into standard operating procedures -- and then require employees to follow those procedures closely. Some companies are better at doing this than others.

So how do you go hunting for best practices? You have to find employees doing their tasks and responsibilities. Then get them to start documenting exactly what they are doing and how they are doing it, every step of the way. Then someone -- maybe YOU -- needs to apply good business judgment to figure out who is doing it best. One task at a time, one responsibility at a time, somebody has to look at the documentation of the real work being done and start identifying best practices. As you find best practices, someone needs to convert them into standard operating procedures. Then you can use them for training and performance management every step of the way going forward. That is until a new best practice emerges and displaces the old one. That's when you need to create a new standard operating procedure reflecting the new best practice... and so on and so on...

Any time you have well-trained personnel doing critical work, you will see the rigorous use of standard operating procedures and checklists. That's because the rigorous use of standard operating procedures and checklists always reduces error rates, while improving efficiency. By requiring employees to follow step-by-step checklists, you are telling every employee exactly what to do and how to do each task -- you're also making it a whole lot easier to hold them accountable.

In your one-on-one management conversations, start hunting for best practices. Try asking your direct-reports to start keeping activity logs in order to document exactly what they are doing and how they are doing it, every step of the way. Ask them to go into some detail, describing each step in each task/responsibility.

One task at a time, one responsibility at a time, start going over in detail with each direct-report the documentation he/she is building of the real work being done every day. Use your business judgment to begin identifying best practices on every task/responsibility. As you find best practices, work with each direct-report to convert those best practices into detailed written standard operating procedures.

  • Brenda Frost how do you manage the balance between SOPs and the constant need to be nimble in an organization? I'm a firm believer in creating SOPs as a baseline and that baseline will give you the flexibility you need later. Does that make sense in today's world?

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