Standard Operating Procedures. Breaking down each task takes time and thought, but is worht the exercise. However, what you do with the information once you've broken it down is equally if not more important than just writing it down. It's like sticking your business plan in the drawer and pulling it out once a year.
If you write SOP's, you need to train your employees to them since the ultimate purpose of the SOP is to let the employee know what is expected of them and how they will be held accountable. I see SOP's as a minimum standard. Certainly you will have employees exceed your expectations, but you don't want them to fall short of the stated procedure or expectation for quality. Hence the reason for standardizing.
Defining how to do a job in words can mean a lot of words - then getting an employee to read the SOP is challenging. You then need to consider testing after instruction to make sure things stuck. Then your managers MUST reinforce what is in the SOP's in the field. Employees will test what they can get away with at times. If you let them slide on things that you've asked them to do - and they know it, how do you then go back hold them accountable? They will get frustrated easily if you're sporadic about your enforcement.
Which means picking and choosing your battles. You can't ride everyone about everything all day long. You hope that you give them enough guidance that they will do what is right. Not all people have the common sense or courtesy to do this. So it goes back to hiring the right person.
We're working on writing SOP's now. We started with 6 of them last year.
2) Customer Service
3) Fueling and lubricating
4) Introduction to landscape maintenance procedures
5) Beginning Maintenance
6) Intermediate Maintenance
Each SOP covers different equipment and procedures. Our maintenance procedures for each property are the same. So the approach to a property and general rules (e.g. walk around the edges of the lawn, not across it. Or never put gas powered equipment on a lawn... gas kills grass) are covered in the Intro to Landscape Maintenance Procedures. Beginning maintenance covers push mowers and back pack. Intermediate covers walk behind, riders, reel mowers, line trimmers and edgers.
We will work on adding more this winter. Aerating, thatching, slit seeding, planting annual flowers, mulching, spring/fall clean ups and I'm sure we'll come up with some more.
Our intention is to give the relevent SOP to the employee when they're ready to move on to the next job function which requires those additional skills. We have not yet created quizes or tests which tests the knowledge.
We started on this quest because we wanted to train laborers, but we quickly realized that foreman need SOP's as well. How do you teach someone to evaluate and make the best decision? The foreman must be able to train the technician to the SOP which means the foreman has to have a greater understanding, comprehension and ability to train it. To train the foreman we're working on developing SOP's for them. Their training will be more involved and detailed working to share with them the thinking behind certain decisions. We've taken notes at this point as to what we might cover, but we have not yet tried to write them into a cohesive format.
Training manuals are often helpful. However, we're looking at easier/faster methods of teaching the material. We use some pictures now to show what we're looking for. Video will be the next step. I suppose this will be several years down the road as we want to get our SOP's in writing before we attempt a video for training. A script of sorts.
I'd be interested in knowing how others apply their SOP's to their companies and what has worked for them.
Lawn Lad, Inc.