All companies – landscaping businesses included – can run into problems when they don’t have a clear plan of action and a set of standards for any given task. If workers don’t know what to do and have no way of measuring how well they’re doing it, how will they get anything done? The result is often inefficiency, chaos, and confusion. What’s needed is a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
Landscape-SOPs act as a guideline to keep projects on task and moving forward in a uniform, organized manner. Projects go through iterative bumps as they stumble forward when there’s a lack of clarity about how to do certain things – and for good reason, because often, there may be more than one way to do something right. Time, effort, and money can be wasted as workers try to sort out the one way to do something that they can all agree on. An SOP would fix all that.
Standard operating procedures can go a long way in curing a lot of ills. They can help ensure a high level of quality for behind-the-scenes business operations in addition to the actual services and finished products delivered by the company. The presence of a set of company operating procedures gives employees, clients, and vendors more confidence in the professionalism of the business. A written procedures manual is also a training tool that company managers can use to make the training process for new employees more efficient and thorough.
Let’s be clear: the initial preparation of SOPs is time-consuming, but the long-term return on investment (ROI) is well worth the effort. Start by taking the most common practices and documenting them in such a way that teams will know where to start, how to proceed, and the order of tasks to be done so they can avoid stopping and rehashing how to do things over and over again. This will help them understand what the service is, the products needed to deliver that service, the time it should take, and the expected outcome.
Predictability Businesses earn the respect and trust of their clients when they deliver consistent, quality work. Creating SOPs for your services also boosts the confidence and efficiency of your employees. When they’re confident in what they’re doing and how they are doing it, anxiety goes down, performance goes up.
Better quality control If you have an SOP, you have a set of standards available for every individual on a crew to reference which gives them confidence that what they’re doing will produce the outcome promised to the client. If you have standards by which to measure the work completed you can better control the quality of delivery. In the trades, there is a concept called “rework” that requires a finished element of the project to be corrected because the results did not meet the promised outcome. You want to keep rework to a minimum because it is a profit drain and a morale killer. The truth is most rework is avoidable and an SOP is a step in that direction.
Better communications Without SOPs, everyone has a different vision of a task’s outcome and what needs to be done to accomplish it. Disagreements may result and some individuals may have difficulty resolving them. If you have a well-documented SOP for a specific task, it’s easier to clearly communicate what needs to be done and how to do it. However, it should be said that there are also new ways to do old things and it’s important to be open to innovation. If you discover a better way to perform a task and achieve a better result, update the SOP. That is not a negative change, it’s a positive one.
More effective training Written SOPs are a highly-effective tool for training new employees as well as employees you want to promote. In today’s work environment, employee development plans often include transitions to new roles. As employees transition to new responsibilities, they may be able to get a crash course in their new duties from another worker who can act as their mentor. However, if they’re not that lucky, SOPs can provide a framework for understanding what’s required while minimizing dependence on a co-worker’s availability for answering questions. SOPs establish the foundation for performing key functional tasks and meeting performance requirements.
More efficient performance reviews SOPs help you establish a baseline for performance expectations and productivity. A set of written standards operates as a guideline by which to measure how well an employee or a team is performing their job and delivering on expectations. When you have a team embracing SOPs and using them to collectively achieve better project outcomes, you have an efficient group of employees working in harmony with one another and with company goals. However, if an SOP reveals discord and employees butting heads and/or performing poorly, then you’re getting a heads-up that either you have a problem with that worker or workers, or with the SOP itself.
SOPs are a highly effective and valuable tool for improving both company and employee productivity. They provide a framework that enables everyone in your company to perform tasks consistently, reliably, and efficiently to achieve better workflow and project outcomes. But don’t be fooled, writing the document alone isn’t enough. You must use it to actively train your people. Listen to their feedback and update the SOP when it makes sense to do so. Skipping these two important steps is the same as wishful thinking and wasted effort. Remember the SOP is a living document that is an aid to assist human beings to be their best on the job.
Even better, when things are systemized through a set of standard operating procedures, your brain is freed up to think strategically and creatively, no longer mired down in debating daily tactical tasks that are now standardized. SOPs enable you and your managers to confidently say “this is how we do it,” eliminating uncertainty and ambiguity. However, it’s also important to realize that SOPs should never be carved in stone – be open to making exceptions and creating variants of SOPs to take advantage of unique circumstances and opportunities.
Developing SOPs at The Garden Continuum has been an ongoing effort. The company is 20 years old this year! Our standards have evolved as our operations have grown so a few of our manuals are outdated and some just don’t exist. We are actively entrenched in crafting a new set of written procedures for our production teams. I know that the consistency that will result from utilizing these SOPs with our production teams will be one of the biggest factors leading us to accomplish our goals and meet our financial benchmarks.