A Wider Perspective of Policies and Procedures – SOP

When the early human beings started realizing that an axe can be used to simplify their work, they also began to ponder upon building it. They knew there are procedures to be followed. They had to find the right materials – a strong stick of wood, a stone of the right size, something to be used as rope, etc. The stone had to be sharpened, the wood had to be smoothened for better grip and shaped to fit in the stone, and then the final assembling to form the Axe. In wildlife, a herd of elephants is an instance of a policy. We do not know if they call it a policy or not, in their language, but they know that following this policy helps them stay together, assigns them a collective identity, and makes it difficult for their predators to think of attacking them. Wait, is it not a strategy? If a strategy is followed on an extensive scale, it becomes more of a policy. If you decide that you will not indulge in procrastination, that idea may start off as a strategy but once you start implementing it in all the areas of your life, then it becomes a policy. The history of policies and procedures dates back longer than their modern-day definitions could hold. But the essence remains the same. Procedures show the way to do something. Policies give us a sense of direction in thinking, conduct or functioning towards a broader meaning. Difference between a policy and a procedure Policy is a broader term than procedure. While a procedure narrowly focuses only on ‘how to do a particular task towards a particular outcome’ a policy is focused on a general idea or principle for conduct or behavior. For example, in homes, ‘a family that eats together stays together’ is a policy. A local business employing both men and women in its staff is probably following a policy of gender equality in recruitment. ‘Smoking Zone’ is another example of a policy. Policies need to be deterministic because they lend the merit of direction in thinking and action/conduct/functioning having broader implications. ‘Safe driving’ is a policy; how to drive is a procedure. While driving, you have to bear in mind that driving safely is a policy. The entire family to have dinner at 9 together is a policy. But, for example, how to cook something is a procedure. You will have a healthy diet is a policy. But how you work out in the gym involves a trainer-prescribed procedure. A policy need not necessarily lead to a procedure. They can exist independent of one another. However, a policy needs to be followed by how and where it could be realized which can lead to the formation of strategies. For example, if a company assumes a policy of gender-neutrality in its employment, then this policy must also be accounted for in its manpower planning, job specifications, facilities provided, welfare policies, etc. Because a policy is a broad concept, its implementation, too, is far-stretched. Under the ambit of gender neutrality, how a recruitment process is to be carried out or how facilities are to be managed may involve SOPs. Some examples of policies in business are gender-equality in recruitment, performance review policies, organizational code of conduct, IT usage policies, policies pertaining to the use of mobile phones at work, policies for suppliers and vendors, workplace safety and security, etc. What is SOP or what is Standard Operating Procedure? What is more important than the definition of Standard Operating Procedure is to grab its essence in its simplest form. SOP or Standard Operating Procedure is just a more precise name for what we call a procedure. When we clearly define each and every step involved in achieving something, that step-by-step definition constitutes the procedure to achieve that something. Much better, we call it SOP. It could be SOP for building an axe or SOP for carrying out our daily routine or SOP to assemble a computer and so on. We may carry out these tasks intuitively but we would be better off if we have a roadmap. In business or, more specifically, in the management of business processes and operations, SOPs have become indispensable. Having SOPs have a far greater positive influence in the execution of business processes and operations in terms of operational clarity and direction, standards to be maintained and delivery expectations to be met than not having SOPs. Some examples of business activities where SOP is involved are payment of wages and salaries, carrying out the recruitment process, inventory purchase, stocking and reordering, internal requisitions, making payment to vendors/suppliers, addressing customer support, etc. SOP touches every corner of a business enterprise. Wherever there is a process or an operation involved, SOP is there (or needs to be there) for streamlining. We may add an endless number of definitions to policies and procedures (SOPs) but at the end of the day, it is the essence that we need to retain. Policies and procedures have existed before us and shall continue to remain so because of their fundamental utilities. It makes sense to make use of policies and procedures (SOPs) deterministically.
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