Consistency. That is what people are looking for everywhere, from the customer service they’re given to the work environment their company creates.
As leaders, we all know how great it is to hear feedback from a customer on an employee who is exceptional. What if all employees could make that type of impact? Yes, consistency is the goal, and it is extremely hard to achieve. Those organizations that do achieve consistency benefit from it in so many ways: from more people using the service, to better retention of the workforce, even to fewer legal issues.
So, what are some ways to achieve this state? Consistency comes from processes, products, and people. All three need to be aligned.
One important key to achieving consistency is having good standard operating procedures (commonly abbreviated to “SOPs”). A definition of SOPs is “a set of step-by-step instructions that help people conduct routine operations.” The aim of SOPs is to achieve efficiency, quality, and uniformity in performance, reducing miscommunication and failure to comply with regulations.
I have spent most of my career in healthcare. Readers, rest assured healthcare has lots of SOPs. Why? Because the industry has a commitment to making sure patients achieve the best outcomes possible. Anyone who experiences healthcare knows they will be asked their birth date. That is just one example of many. In healthcare organizations, as in all industries, when an issue occurs, it often can be traced to handoffs (also called handovers) from one person to the next. If handoffs are not done well, issues can present themselves.
All organizations benefit from good standard operating procedures. Employees like them because they create uniformity (that “I know what to expect” feeling). Customers like them because they value consistency in process and product.
My go-to book on SOPs is The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber. I have a bias toward locally owned and/or operated businesses. My wife and I own some small retail businesses as well as two minor league baseball teams. I was part of a roundtable discussion group, and one of the participants recommended the above book. As I read it, the realization came that so many businesses are lacking in SOPs. Having spent so much time in healthcare, I realized that I had underappreciated that the industry is built on SOPs.
The E-Myth Revisited explains that franchises most often outperform independent businesses. A big reason is that for the franchises to grow (or scale), SOPs are vital. Why? Because the owner will not always be on-site when there is more than one location. Anyone who owns a business and/or is in management knows the tremendous number of hours you work. Gerber’s book makes a point that if owners of smaller businesses lack SOPs—or at least lack updated ones—they are often on-site more than if they did have solid SOPs. How many small business owners do you know who have closed or sold a business due to the substantial number of hours worked?
Another nice benefit of SOPs is that they help with training and development. For example, at my wife’s shops in Pensacola, it is important to open the umbrellas first thing. Why? It tells people the shops are open for business. Another item is fresh water for pets. Many people eat or drink coffee outside and appreciate their pets’ having access to water. While this sounds simple, it is an item we still miss at times. So, having an SOP in place reminds owners and leaders to train staff on each SOP and hold them accountable for executing it. There are many different workers in our shops, so having SOPs for how to make acai bowls and other items is critical.
Here are a few of the big advantages of SOPs:
- Creating them helps a business shape and hone its processes. As SOPs are developed, the steps, tools, and resources needed to create a great product or service become apparent.
- As mentioned earlier, they help identify the training that is needed for all workers. All employees benefit from them, particularly new team members.
- They provide a better work life for owners and leaders. Because the SOPs provide guidelines to those working, there are fewer calls and questions—and fewer work hours—for owners and other leaders.
- SOPs create better customer service. Customers appreciate consistency. It does not take many bad experiences for a customer to go somewhere else.
- Finally, they lead to continuous improvement. At times, even with an SOP, there will be issues. This is a sign to relook at the SOP and other factors. If customer feedback on an item is not good, the SOP may need adjusting. If the SOP is solid and the product is good, disappointing feedback can point to a people item. It can reveal the need for better education for staff or at times identify an employee who is not a good fit for their role.
If your department or organization is lacking the consistency you would like, take time to read up on SOPs. Invest in creating and implementing them. It may take a little time and effort—and thought—up front, but having a good, solid set of SOPs in place will pay off in the long-term.