Standard Operating Procedures: From Process To Progress

In the Landscape Industry, most companies have a multitude of systems. There are systems relating to the frontline team: clocking in; how/where they start their days; how they know which clients to service; and more. There are also systems relating to management: the sales process, cold calls, job proposals, receiving signatures, and more. All companies utilize systems. What differentiates successful and efficient companies is that they standardize and document their systems.

In order to be successful continually, a process must be defined, taught, and followed through by everyone. When you don’t follow processes, you won’t receive the expected results. Companies who document processes help ensure their growth.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)

(Source: Adobe Stock by stanciuc)

What Is An SOP?

SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedure, formally defined as “a set of written instructions that describes the step-by-step process that must be taken to properly perform a routine activity,” (TechTarget). There are a couple important pieces to have a true SOP.

The process must be written. This is key to ensuring the process is followed correctly each time. Being written is what separates a system from an SOP. Some companies have SOP’s stored in documents. Others utilize software to create and store them.

It must be broken down into steps and clearly written so anyone, whether new or senior to the company, can follow the steps. Better yet, are added pictures or visuals. The goal is to not only identify the process, but create the SOP in a way so that it can also be used as a training tool for new employees.

An SOP is specific to a routine activity. This is key. Typically, companies either do not have enough SOPs documenting all routine activities, or they over-document how to handle one-off situations. While over-documenting is better than the opposite, there is a balance between providing helpful tools for employees and overwhelming them with hundreds of documents to sift through. The intention is to define the best practice for completing an activity, at its most common situation, not the three extra situational-based solutions.

Identifying & Incorporating SOPs

If you don’t have SOPs yet, now’s the time to generate them! While this can be a project, the longer you put it off, the longer inconsistent training and results will continue. The first step is identifying a list of routine activities which one or more individuals are responsible for. Once the list is created, each one needs a detailed step-by-step document created. This is an important part, so be sure the individual creating it knows your company standard.

Often, this project falls into the hands of someone in HR or administration, yet they may not know the step-by-step process of a task outside their responsibility. In this situation, rely on someone who trains or oversees the individuals responsible for the task to provide insight on the SOP. You could also lean directly on those performing the task, but it’s possible they are not following all the steps—due to a normal, human tendency to find shortcuts when we don’t know the repercussions. This is why asking managers how the task should be performed is best.

Creating a single SOP can take anywhere from a couple minutes to much longer depending on how involved the task is, and if there is back and forth communication needed to gather the right steps. If you are aiming to create a ‘library’ of SOPs – you can expect it will take months or longer. In reality, it’s always going to be an ongoing project. As inefficiencies are identified or new software is implemented, processes change and SOPs will need to be adjusted.

SOPs

An example of an SOP. To view the full SOP, click here. (Source: Two Twelve Advisors, LLC)

 

Once the SOPs have been created, you must introduce the documents to your employees. While they may have already been aware of, or following, the process, it’s important they understand the SOPs are now THE way to complete a task, not an option or recommendation. As you hire new employees, these SOPs should be used to train them on their responsibilities.

When your company is first creating SOPs, they are likely to have room for improvement. Meaning now that there is a clear step-by-step documented process, you may realize the process needs adjustment. As changes are identified, revise the document. The goal is to continue to tweak the documents to find the most accurate and efficient processes.

It’s important to hold your employees accountable to these SOPs. They should always have access to the most recent version. If they find something they think needs to be changed, it should be brought to upper management for discussion. If you find an employee is not following or utilizing the SOP, corrective action may need to be taken.

Results

Once you have a “library” of SOPs you will notice several positive impacts on your organization. With everyone following the same steps to complete an activity, they should all be achieving the same results. For instance, once you identify an SOP for onboarding a new client, all clients will be taken care of in the same way. You will always have gathered the necessary signatures, documents, deposits, etc. As long as the SOP is being followed, inconsistencies will decrease.

As mentioned above, over time you’ll gain the ability to recognize areas for improvement. With a process in place, if results are not satisfactory, you can just locate the SOP and evaluate it for improvement. The SOP may also need to be revised as changes occur in your company, like a switch in software or organizational structure.

With SOPs in place, not only will onboarding be more efficient, but employee satisfaction should increase. When everyone has clarity on roles and responsibilities, they can better prioritize and find success. However, don’t be surprised if some employees initially push back on the accountability expected of them. But most individuals find satisfaction knowing exactly what is required of them to do their job correctly.

Lastly, when a company is running smoothly, the client is bound to feel the benefit. By having clarity not only in responsibilities amongst individuals but also the steps involved, your client retention and/or feedback should increase.

SOPs & Technology

As you consider implementing or recon-structing your company’s SOPs, you should also consider how and where they are stored. While SOPs are a great step towards efficiency, involving technology is also important. Is technology necessary when creating SOPs? Even at the highest level, we would say “Yes.”

SOPs should, at the very least, be stored electronically. For example, it might mean a word document stored in a company shared folder, such as DropBox or OneDrive, which all management has access to view. By eliminating paper documents, you are ensuring everyone has the most recent version of the SOP. This empowers your team to have quick access to the correct answer on their own.

While this can be a great method, we’ve seen companies take it another step further by utilizing a Checklist software, such as Manifestly, which stores SOPs more efficiently. This is a slightly more advanced way to store standardized processes. Benefits include: employees can utilize the SOP as an electronic checklist; the SOP can be linked to a training document; and the software enables creation of as-needed or recurring checklists.

Checklists

When it comes to checklists, we typically refer to two types: weekly role checklists and client checklists. A weekly checklist, if utilizing a checklist software, would typically auto-generate once a week for all management. Each role will have its own checklist, which includes all responsibilities and a detailed description of how to complete each task. This empowers your team to know exactly what they are expected to complete each week. It can also be a helpful training tool when onboarding a new employee.

A client checklist would be one that involves multiple roles, like onboarding a new client or transitioning a canceled client. Both examples require steps to be performed from the account manager, the branch manager, the office manager, and whoever is responsible for ticket management, etc. With this system in an electronic checklist, someone can quickly generate the checklist and instantly notify everyone involved of the situation. It is a highly effective way to ensure new and existing clients are taken care of.

Which CRM Software Is Right For Your Landscape Business?Technology

Don’t forget the importance of holding employees accountable to the SOPs. While this may feel like it will negatively impact company culture, you’d be surprised how many employees thrive with structure. Everyone wants to feel successful. With SOPs, you’ll be clearly defining how a team, or individual, can find success. You owe it to them to verify everyone is following the process, and address individuals who aren’t. Over time, SOPs will be the new normal and you’ll have earned buy-in. You’ll see a positive impact on company efficiency and results—as well as employee and client satisfaction.

Two Twelve AdvisorsArnold is a managing partner in Two Twelve Advisors, LLC. Two Twelve specializes in coaching and training landscape companies to streamline and scale their operations with standardized processes for confidence in record keeping, sales projections, and the ability to scale quickly. This is done through the implementation and overall use of Aspire Software

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