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So now life is good: You have an SOP manual, a more knowledgeable staff, consistency of services, a great tool for performance measures, regular training, etc.
You didn't think you were done, did you?
SOPs should be reviewed by all staff, department supervisors and the director at least once each year, and suggestions from staff should always be considered for changes of process. The consequences of not having SOPs in good working order are far more serious than the inconvenience of keeping them updated.
Part I of this series explains why SOPs matter and presents strategies for creating them. These strategies are also useful for updating existing SOPS. Part II discusses ways to implement SOPs in your organization.
Organizations need to develop a comprehensive system to ensure that all policies, procedures and training programs are continually reviewed and updated, in practice as well as in writing. Making such a review part of supervisor job descriptions, and making time for it on the calendar help ensure that your organization keeps the information current and functional.
Do Your SOPs Still Do the Job?
Here are some questions to ask as you consider whether your existing SOPs are in use throughout your organization and are still working as you intended them to.
- Where are the SOPs kept? Is the "centralized" copy really still available?
- Does everyone have a copy? Do new staff get a copy right away? Is there someone responsible for assuring this?
- Do all of the staff know—more than vaguely—what you are talking about when you ask about policies?
Usefulness of Current SOPs
- Do you hear consistent grumbling from staff regarding any particular procedures?
- Is the manual truly comprehensive? Have you noticed any gaps?
- Are the SOPs still realistic? Efficient? Effective? Is there now a better way?
- When did you last really read them?
Integration with Your Operations
- Are staff still involved in conversations that arise about needed updates?
- Are you open to changes and improvements, even though you worked so hard to get what you have now?
- Is your training still linked to procedures, and successful at helping staff understand what it is they need to accomplish?
What Needs to Change?
The answers to the questions asked above should guide the kinds of changes that may be needed. For example:
- If awareness is the issue, you may need to produce and distribute the procedures and ask supervisors to remind staff about them.
- If the information is out of date, you can use the process outlined in Part I to identify and make necessary changes to the SOPs.
If there's a lack of acceptance of the SOPs, do some digging to find out why:
- Is the use of the SOPs included in job descriptions, employment policies, performance objectives, and training?
- Are the SOPs too cumbersome to use? Are they unnecessarily complicated or too far removed from day-to-day reality?
- Do your supervisors believe in their value and insist on their use? If not, why?
- Do line staff resist following the SOPs? If so, why?
Identifying where the gaps between the procedures and their acceptance occur means that you can focus on a response that addresses the real issues and involves the right people.
How to Make the Changes?
Designate only one person to actually enter changes in the master document. This person could be your director of operations, manager, executive director—based on what's best for your agency.
Here is a suggested process for identifying and implementing changes to your SOPs:
- Include SOPs on the agenda of regular department staff meetings if there are any suggestions for change, deletions, or additions that need to be discussed.
- After discussion with the entire department, the department supervisor advises the director of operations of his/her team's suggestions or needed clarification.
- The director of operations evaluates the requested change and if necessary discusses it with the executive director or leader.
- If the Director of Operations and the ED agree to make the change, that section of the master SOP manual (both electronic and physical copy) is updated with the new wording and instruction.
- A memo then goes out to the entire staff with a summary of the update, and the page and section number that was updated. Each staff person also receives a printed copy of the new revised section for the staff member to update their own manual.
Keeping SOPs a Priority
Development of SOPs and keeping them up to date and used must be a priority of an agency. To go through this process to say "Yes, we have 'em" is a waste of time. Agencies who are most successful with following SOPs have made it someone's main task to:
- keep the SOPs current,
- ensure training is taking place based on the SOPs, and
- prevent SOPs from falling to the bottom of the priority list.
Many agencies are understaffed, and yours may be one of them. If you are thinking you can't devote staff time to SOPs, think again about all of the aspects of your operation that will run more smoothly, more safely, and more reliably when everyone follows a good set of SOPs. SOPs are the core of your entire operation, and therefore critical to the internal and external success of your program.
Finding an SOP Advocate
Who should take charge of SOPs in your organization? Look for a staff person who:
- is organized,
- does not "have an agenda,"
- likes people, and
- understands the importance of this project and document.
When you find this individual, see where you can make some changes so this person has the time and energy to take on your SOPs.