Every organization has rules, policies, procedures, and standards by which its constituents must abide to. The choice to abide must be a voluntary action by the employees to agree and to physically act in accordance with the standards of the organization. This makes the application of standards difficult as they must be communicated to the employee base through documentation, managerial involvement, and company culture. These three principals are the basis for policy acceptance and consistent behavior modification. (See Compliance: Do People or Processes Guide Our Compliance Efforts?)
Culture is passed on through the organization, but it is also constantly evolving – much like the governmental regulations and standards by which our organizations are required to abide by. The SOP guide becomes the living-breathing foundation that evolves with the organization. It becomes the backbone for the personality of the organization.
The goal during the application of Standard Operating Procedures (or SOP) is to create a uniform and detailed set of instructions to achieve a specified standard during organizational operations. SOPs are the instructions that denote how a policy is to be implemented within an organization – or in other words the procedure for the organizational policy. While a policy is an outline on what to react to on external stimuli or situation, the proceduredefines the how to schematics of the policy reaction. SOPs are the basis for our job descriptions, training measures, standards for operations, and employee accountability.
Lets take a look at an example of a policy and procedure to better understand SOP application. We can all relate to a fire evacuation plan, this is an important aspect of employee safety. The fire evacuation policy would outline that the company has method or reacting to the external stimuli of a fire. The procedure would then outline the details of the fire evacuation – how the evacuation must be properly executed upon the fire alarm sounding. The procedure outlines answers such as – how do the employees exit the building? Where do the employees meet upon exiting? How does the company ensure everyone is out of the building? Who is responsible for ensuring everyone is accounted for? Simplified, the procedure outlines the steps necessary for execution while providing accountability to the policy. This combination of policy and procedure can be denoted as an SOP.
The fire evacuation example is a very simplified version of an SOP. We have to keep in mind what else these policies and procedures are being utilized for. In healthcare they denote the standards and procedures by which surgical devices are cleaned and processed. In global organizations they denote the standards on how 3rd party international vendors are selected and utilized for their services. In banking they denote what assets are purchased and how they are processed. In reality, policies and procedures (SOP) govern every aspect of the organizational output.