© Ravi Wazir, 2020

How SOPs CAN actually be implemented

The next time you watch a newcomer to your company being initiated into your Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), just look at whether your team explaining it actually “walks the talk” of SOPs themselves or merely talks it.

We all know that if we were able to implement even fifty percent of the SOPs we’ve put down in our brand manuals, we’d all be tremendously more efficient organizations. Strangely, as leadership we simply lament about how wonderful things would be if only they were implemented well; while our team members often point out that some of the policies mentioned in our manuals are highly impractical.

At some level we know that at times the staff members are absolutely right about the impracticality bit, yet we do little about it. At other times, the staff may be completely mistaken, and we try and fight them on it. One way or another, the outcome is that rather little of what we want implemented is actually ever implemented diligently.

Clearly even if you make a good looking and glorious sounding manual, if your existing team isn’t really implementing it, your investor’s or franchisee’s team will hardly have confidence in it when your own team tells them it’s just for show.

How then should policies be formed in the first place, and how best can they actually be implemented?

Over the years it became clear to me that unless policies were created differently, their implementation would leave a lot to be desired.

Here are 5 aspects I focussed on in organizations that I worked with, which I found helped improve implementation substantially. I must mention upfront that they were extremely tedious to execute. Attempting to transform mindsets always is.

But if you can see this as a painful though necessary exercise, pivotal in achieving what has been eluding you for a long time, do try... since it will indeed bear fruit and you will experience its value... however slowly.

1. Define your Goal

When defining a goal, it is best that you make it the loftiest one possible. In this case let’s say it’s, “The implementation of desired procedures in the absence of superiors.” We all know how differently teams behave in front of their leaders and behind their backs. After all CCTVs can’t capture all of it and even if they did, who’s sitting to watch them beginning to end?

2. Identify the policies to be prioritised

Don’t try to list every possible policy and procedure that can be written in a SOPs manual. This will surely fail.

Instead, at first make a list of only those areas of the business in which you need to make new policies or revise old ones. Those causing the greatest impact to your organization would be a great place to start.

If you are a start-up, identify and list out only those policies that are initially most necessary.

If you are an existing organization, identify and list the greatest pain points in your company that need to be addressed.

In both cases you’d need to look at matters of concern from various perspectives:

  1. The company itself (e.g. In an existing Restaurant: A high level of simultaneous & extended leave periods by many of the staff),
  2. The guests (e.g. In an existing Restaurant: The service isn’t fast enough for them)
  3. The team (e.g. In a start-up Restaurant: How much Staff Welfare is adequate)
  4. The vendors (e.g. In a start-up Restaurant: How agreed payment schedules can be regularly met) etc.

In this manner you’d have created a set of priorities to work with your team on, rather than an overload of unnecessary information.

3. Ensure Practicality of policies

Once you have selected your causes, you must dissect their rationale.

A series of meetings with your core team becomes necessary for this. You will find that taking time out from the day-to-day operation for this long term benefit to the organization is tremendously beneficial. Honest and focussed meetings can end both long standing as well as severe issues with finality.

Discussions and debates on every aspect of a solution must happen from the viewpoint of practical operations, the financial impact, the legal implications etc. Once all or at least most parties involved are satisfied with what the most appropriate solution is, the first draft of that policy may be formulated in writing. Often policies may be met with great resistance. Think through which cause is worth taking up and how far you’d be willing to go or not to go on implementing a certain matter before penning it down as a policy.

For an existing policy to remain in your manual, its relevance must be revisited from time to time, and if and where necessary, the policy must be reformed.

4. Buy-in of the policy

We all know how significant a role the “buy-in” of team members plays in the implementation of a policy.

As mentioned above, when multiple stakeholders are involved in their formulation, more than half the battle is already won. Practical issues likely to crop up would have been addressed at the formulation stage. Also, dissenters know in advance which policies are likely to be non-negotiable. So when the policy goes live, resistance towards it may be either partly reduced or better still completely non-existent. Furthermore, when the team leaders deem something as practical, it does tend to go down better with the rest of the team as well.

While we must attempt to achieve harmony between all concerned stake holders, we know that it isn’t always possible. Agendas of a business may on occasion be different from the agendas of its team members.

Let’s look at a situation where a company which is losing money is forced to gradually lay off some of its team members who are in fact quite competent. In such instances, the reason for such a policy may be shared with the team honestly and its impact on the business explained. Even the junior most knows what choices will be made when a business just cannot bear costs beyond a point. In such a situation, an organization is typically trying to balance its concerns about its diminishing reputation as an employer with its need to help counsel its unhappy employees. If you feel it’s easy for a person who is staying on to ask another to leave, think again. That person has to do this distasteful job as humanely as possible, while realising that he could be the next employee to be laid off.

5. Repetition

If we look at our own habits both professional and personal, we are likely to find many which we know to be detrimental to ourselves and to others.

At times we make attempts to change our habits... sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. At other times we make no attempt to change them at all, simply declaring them to be human nature and continuing to bear the brunt of their impact.

I’ve found that people successful in breaking old bad habits or creating new ones, don’t just have the discipline to do so, but more importantly use repetition to help make the change.

They find ways to repeatedly remind themselves what they need to do and at times even get help from people around them by asking others to remind them of what they need to do. Commit to others in your group who have vested interests in making the change happen. Repeated reminders are wonderful way to ensure that desired changes happen.

In the past few years, I’ve found that focussed efforts towards these 5 aspects meet with much better success than anything I previously used. I believe that if you have the patience to try working on this, you will find it so as well. Remember that what you are working towards is not simply getting some rule book to be better followed, but in fact gradually transforming the way your organization thinks, takes decisions, solves problems and works together.

As novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand once said, “A culture is made – or destroyed – by its articulate voices.”