Three nights ago, while sitting at a softball game, I received a frantic phone call asking for advice. A friend of mine was working at a small town gas station, and a customer had just filled her tank (mind you, it was empty) with diesel fuel rather than the required unleaded. It was a rainy evening, the customer was distraught, and this friend had already reached out to several people to no avail.

My first question was combined with a statement, and went something like this, “Well this has had to have happened before. What is the advice you should give?”

Once I heard a somewhat irritated, “I am not really sure,” I asked, “There has to be some standard operating procedure (SOP) for this situation and others that commonly arise. Where is the SOP binder?”

If there was a binder containing standard operating procedures, this employee had never been shown it, had never had it explained to her, and did not even know where it would be located.

Having an SOP binder would have benefitted her and the customer in numerous ways, including saving time searching for an answer. An SOP would have created a better repertoire between the employee and the customer by having an answer at her finger-tips, and would have saved the employee from having to say, “I don’t know.” Of course, I have coached this employee many times, and her response was, “I am not sure, but I will find out for you.”

One of my biggest pet peeves, and I am not alone in this, is asking a customer service employee a question and hearing, “I don’t know,” in response and knowing the conversation was over. This, however, is fodder for another column.

Back to the topic at hand — standard operating procedures. Perhaps I was taught their importance in a previous career and maybe I became so accustomed to creating them and relying on them that I have sold myself on their importance, but I cannot believe I am the only person who feels this way.

The most clear, concise definition of SOPs is best explained by QuickBooks:

“Standard operating procedures are step-by-step instructions that act as guidelines for employee work processes. Whether written up in numbered steps or formatted as flow charts, effective SOPs are complete, clearly written, and based on input from the workers who do the job. When employees follow the SOP for a particular job, they produce a product that is consistent and predictable.”

If you are a business owner or in a management role, you want your employees to respond and react to issues, problems or ways of completing projects done the same way each and every time. Having a readily available SOP binder ensures this will happen. The SOP acts as a guide and will reduce the possibility of missed steps or errors that would impact the quality of the completed project or product. In addition, should something happen such as the mistake made by a customer, not only will your employees be able to quickly respond, but they will also look more intelligent and capable.

So, if your business produces a product or provides a service for which you want to maintain a better-than-average reputation, I highly suggest creating or updating your SOPs. But don’t stop there! Sit down with each employee, or if you have a larger team, schedule a meeting, and review each procedure and field any questions asked. When you have a new hire, be sure to include this in their orientation.

Remember, these procedures are incredibly crucial for your organizational and operational well-being.

Kristen Asleson is owner of Midwest Virtual Assistants. Send comments and ideas to

What's your reaction?