Shelter Management

Implementing SOPs

You bit the bullet and got your agency's standard operating procedures (SOPs) written. Now it's time to put them to work.

Even the best written plans, job descriptions and operating policies will be ineffective in shaping performance without an organized and documented system of job training that translates into the workplace.

On-the-job training, for the most part, involves simply shadowing a (hopefully) more experienced employee until the new employee picks up the required routine or tasks. As a training method, it can be pretty inefficient, and it's often ineffective. One of the most important uses of SOPs is as training tools.

SOPs and Staff Training

Lack of formal training is the number-one concern in many shelters, for both staff and supervisors?and with good reason. The consequences for mistakes due lack of training range from inconvenient to life-threatening.

When training does not mirror documented policies and procedures, the scope and specifics of this training are open to reinterpretation by each new person who passes along the information. And, it is difficult to hold people accountable when they have been poorly trained or are not familiar with what they are supposed to do and how, much less why.

Procedural training should be viewed as a central, and not peripheral, part of the organization's work. SOPs provide a solid foundation for this training:

  • Because SOPs are written, both supervisor and employee have a reliable reference for how tasks need to be done. This avoids the problem of a staffer being trained by Bob to do things Bob's way and then being "corrected" by Sara, who prefers different methods.
  • A new staff person can refer to their copy of the SOPs for a "refresher" on how to perform a task whenever needed instead of having to find someone to ask for help or deciding to wing it.
  • By being trained using SOPs, staff learn from their first days with the agency that the organization is serious about following SOPs, and that the staff person is expected to continue following them.

Each staff member should have a copy of the SOP manual with a master copy (that is kept current) in a central location. Staff need to read the entire document and then review the sections that relate to their job one-on-one with their supervisor before training starts.

In addition, all supervisors should be required to complete minimum training requirements themselves. This will help to ensure that the training that supervisors provide to staff members is consistent with the SOPs.

SOPs and Performance Objectives

In addition to providing the basis for staff training, SOPs are also critical to meaningful job descriptions and performance objectives. One of the worst situations that occurs in shelters involves staff that are fired or written up for not doing something that they had no idea they were supposed to do. We can't stress enough the importance of:

  • Spelling out the expectations of every employee,
  • Training supervisory staff to implement the expectations appropriately, and
  • Requiring accountability at all levels.

The implementation of a system for ensuring that all staff are knowledgeable of?and held accountable for?following policies and procedures is essential. In performance reviews, SOPs provide an impartial standard for evaluating performance. Using SOPs makes it easier to be consistent about expectations for every employee and to determine whether performance meets, exceeds, or falls short of expectations.

Supervisor Responsibilities for Use of SOPs

It is incumbent upon agency supervisors, to ensure that their staff consistently follow SOPs. With specific accountability measures linked to procedures and training, the organization can best be assured that proper procedures are followed, and better assure the community of the same.

Staff Who Meet a Higher Standard

And to help ensure staff that documented procedures are much more than "just a disciplinary tool," supervisors should document instances when employees go "above and beyond the call of duty." There should be a formal system in place for recognizing and rewarding any positive actions taken by staff members. All documentation, positive and negative, should be saved and taken into account when performance reviews are conducted.

Coming Full Circle

In Part I of this series, we talked about SOPs becoming "living documents" that grow and adapt to the needs of your organization. In Part III, we present strategies for keeping your SOPs alive and well in the future.