Tips for Standard Operating Procedures (SOP):

  • Work processes have to be clear and avoid unnecessary complexity to ensure all essential elements are included.
  • The core aspect of an effective SOP is about its cleanliness and readability, or else it would be difficult to fully understand the workflow.

In 2020, a global outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic led to various preventive and control measures and disrupted many businesses. In response, they scrambled to recalibrate their operational procedures for business survival. These adjustments included transitioning to work remotely and revising procurement systems, and more.

This viral crisis served as a stark reminder, highlighting the importance of maintaining the vitality of businesses through standardized operating procedures (SOPs).

Nowadays, people also used to rely on “Google” as when needed. Many companies will search online for similar operational procedures used within the same industry, then apply it after making some adjustments.

However, operational procedures are not knowledge that can be learned in school, and they are certainly not documents that can be put together depending on an individual’s writing skill. Developing work processes is actually a skill, much like riding a bicycle. Those who need it should learn it; otherwise, not learning it will not have an impact on daily work.

The pandemic is now largely under control as time goes by. This has led to significant changes in the entire operating environment. Therefore, the business owners have to check whether those SOPs referred and copied from the net, are still effective or not? Are the ground employees still adhering to these work procedures?

Certainly, one of the reasons for the failure in implementing SOPs could be attributed to employees relying too much on their traditional ways to work, instead of following the proper work procedures as required.

However, the organization should review the work procedures again, and even provide detailed training if the employees have issues and failed to follow the SOPs.

We (3S Adviser) have assisted numerous companies in tailoring their work procedures for over the years. As a result, certain misconceptions have been identified and summarized and we hope to share these insights with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to work things better:

Misconception 1: Believing that more details equate to better quality

We have clients inquire whether having a legal background such as lawyer, are always capable of writing proper work procedures as they believe that lawyers’ proficiency in drafting precise language can encompass all complexities.

However, this is not right. Excessive wording and content can often confuse readers and make procedures difficult to comprehend.

Those responsible for developing work procedures (SOP) must be acutely aware that this document serves as a reference for individuals unfamiliar with the job requirements. An employee who lacks a clear understanding of their own responsibilities would find it challenging to comprehend the extensive content and discern what they should pay attention to or the standards for performing the tasks.

As a developer of SOPs, we have learned over the years that it’s crucial to customize documents for different users based on their positions, ranks, education, and language proficiency. This allows us to adapt and develop proper work procedures according to specific scenarios, ensuring that the content is presented in the most effective manner.

In order to ensure that foreign employees could easily understand the standardized work procedures and requirements, we decided to develop the SOPs by using diagrams after discussions. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Misconception 2: Enlisting the task performers to draft SOPs

Furthermore, some say that outsiders can never comprehend the tasks as well as the individuals directly involved, making it most appropriate for the task performers to be the one to draft and develop SOPs.

However, this is not always the case. Unless these task performers have been trained in how to write effective work procedures, or else they might encounter two common issues: either becoming overly focused on minute details or oversimplifying the procedures. Both scenarios result in the same outcome—ineffectual work procedures.

An overwhelming abundance of details can lead readers to lose their sense of direction after going through the work procedures. This can result in a lack of clarity about where to start following the procedures. Additionally, individuals engaged in their work require a certain level of relevant information. Having too little information hinders their ability to perform effectively, while an excessive amount of information can create cognitive chaos, which is not conducive to productive outcomes.

The issue with having too little information arises from not incorporating all the procedural standards when discussing the workflow.

In the presence of many experienced employees that are well-acquainted with the tasks, they are used to the work procedures and think that those are easy common knowledge and do not need to be included in the SOPs.

Nevertheless, for a newcomer or an employee unfamiliar with the tasks, what might be considered common knowledge to others does not hold true. Reading an excessively simplified set of work procedures can easily lead such individuals to lose their sense of direction in both comprehending and executing the tasks.

We are wondering if any of you have ever had such an experience—reading through a set of work procedures and feeling like you have not really read anything at all?

Misconception 3: Completion of documents in text alone does not constitute a comprehensive SOP

Writing a document is a task achievable by many; anyone proficient in Microsoft Word can create one. Yet, the true challenge lies in producing a document that provides readers with a sense of immediate clarity. The overall presentation should emanate cleanliness and organization, with information thoughtfully categorized, divided into well-structured paragraphs, chapters, or sections.

Ultimately, ensuring that all the necessary information is included remains another level of achievement.

Writing documents is indeed a skill that requires consistent practice and ongoing refinement by referring to established methods from external sources. We once encountered a document where the business owner complained about employees not adapting the standard work procedures, and only following their own traditional usual ways to work.

When we reviewed it, the document was densely packed with text, and after reading a few pages, we felt exhausted. In such a scenario, one must ponder: how can employees be willing to read or even remember the content? If they cannot comprehend or recall the material, it is reasonable that they do not comply with the SOPs.

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