Understanding the Difference and the Value to Your Company
If you are like most people, you have heard words like “policies,” “procedures,” and “processes” used interchangeably before. And unless you use terms like “SOPs,” “work instructions,” and “job aids” regularly, you could be forgiven for thinking these are all the same. The reality, however, is that there are a number of different types of directional materials and guidelines that govern the way companies, business segments, and individual employees work, and each provides value to the business in different ways. Understanding the differences can give you more than a leg up at Trivia Night—it can help you more efficiently and effectively manage various aspects of your business.
From a performance perspective, these documents or tools are part of the support that is needed for exemplary performance. Each of these elements, when developed and implemented effectively, leads to improved performance at work.
Here is what you need to know.
Policies are “The Rules” that govern the operation of your company and those who work for it. Policies are generally developed by executives (usually with legal advice) during the early days of the company, but they typically evolve as the business grows and changes. Policies cover everything from dress codes to performance reviews, and they are the foundation upon which all other guidelines are built. Almost every business has policies of some sort in place, but often they need to be more regimented about how often policies are revisited and updated with the help of a lawyer.
Example: A company might have a policy that mandates preventive maintenance be performed on all manufacturing equipment so that workers are not at risk and downtime is avoided.
Often existing in the form of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) or similar reference manuals, procedures explain how to fulfill a company’s policies in more specific detail. Procedures often dictate “what” must be done and “who” is responsible. If it was company policy that all employees must receive 20 hours of safety training, a SOP would provide detail about how those hours are to be allocated and attained. If you want to improve performance, include specific criteria or standards that help set clear expectations for completing the SOP tasks and measuring the results.
While all companies should have some form of SOPs in place, these are often neglected or nonexistent in companies where everyone’s attention is focused elsewhere.
Example: A maintenance SOP would lay out the process of complying with the company’s preventive maintenance policy, including responsibilities, accountabilities, and specific procedures.
If SOPs relay the “what” and “who” of a job, work instructions tell you “how.” These step-by-step instructions tend to be department- or job-specific and explain how to execute SOPs to accomplish specific tasks. For example, a work instruction explains how to carry out a maintenance check on a piece of machinery or how to arrange files on a server.
When developing work instructions and setting expectations for those doing the work, it is essential to define the output to be achieved (not just the behaviors) and related criteria so a company knows if it was done “well.”
Work instructions typically exist to some extent within a company, but most businesses could stand to have more thorough and better written work instructions that are easier to follow.
Example: A maintenance work instruction would give step-by-step instructions explaining the weekly, monthly, and annual checks and maintenance for equipment. The work instruction aligns with a preventive maintenance SOP.
A job aid is a specific piece of material intended to help someone execute a task more effectively. While a work instruction could be categorized as a job aid in some situations, job aids encompass more than just directions. Examples include checklists, labeled photographs of equipment parts, company directories, flyers, and any other supplemental material that assists in successfully accomplishing a task. Given the breadth of materials that constitute a job aid, most businesses have these in place, but in some cases the company needs to have more technical job aids in place for complex tasks.
Example: A diagram of a piece of equipment serves as a job aid, supplementing work instructions that explain how to execute a preventive maintenance SOP aligned to a company policy.
What Does It All Mean to You?
The most important thing to know about these various directional assets is that your company needs them but may not have them. Standard operating procedures often go unwritten or poorly executed because no one has time to set up or update them. Work instructions are often drafted when someone is asked to “document what you do,” but the results are inconsistent or incomplete. Everyone recognizes the business needs guidelines, but no one knows quite how to create them effectively.
These varied directional materials are worth investing in, however. Putting the right policies, procedures, work instructions and job aids in place can yield performance improvement in the form of:
- Increased efficiencies
- Consistent product/service quality
- Reduced downtime
- Reduced errors
- Reduced employee turnover
- Reduced time to competency for newly hired employees
- Referenceable data for continuous improvement efforts
If you take a step back and be honest with yourself about where your company is lacking with regard to policies, procedures, work instructions, and job aids, the good news is there are experienced external resources available to help you get it right.
How Can We Help?
At Radcom, we work regularly with companies of all sizes to create the documentation they need to succeed. Clients chose to work with us because:
- We are dedicated to helping businesses improve performance and helping their employees love their work.
- We bring an inquisitive nature and an outside perspective, taking nothing for granted, recognizing process exceptions, and asking the right questions to create step-by-step procedures.
- We bring a consistency of execution, delivering quality materials that align with all applicable standards, regulations, and other requirements. In the meantime, internal resources can stay focused on doing their jobs.
- We are knowledge transfer and process flow experts who can extract information efficiently, will not skip over sub-steps involved in tasks, and move more quickly than inexperienced personnel.
- We are also training experts, and we can effectively pass on what we learn and develop to clients’ employees. We can also train your people to effectively train others who come on board later, ensuring continuity of knowledge within the business.
Whether you choose to work on updating and creating policies, procedures, work instructions, and job aids with experts or by yourself, just be sure you are consistent. Make a plan to not only make adjustments now, but at regular intervals in the future, too. Change is always a constant, and the more you plan for it, the better off you will be.
Need help working through anything from process flows to SOPs? Contact us to start the discussion.