Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs): Creating A Customized 'Mother Book' Manual

by Mary Manney
Posted On: 3/18/2019

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Without written standard operating procedures (SOPs), forming an SOP "Mother Book Manual" explaining exactly how you expect your employees to operate, with time and turnover, all you will ever do is recreate the wheel over… and over… and over… and over. It's called business Ground Hog Day without the Bill Murray laughs.
I discovered this undisputable fact early in my career.  It came from the loss- prevention and operations aspect of having run a retail store, district, duel district, region, three divisions in a retail company, three divisions in a five-company retail group, and then consulting in more than 70 vending/foodservice/micromarket operations of all sizes in 27 states.
One of the most common mistakes too many operators make as they grow is not creating, developing and maintaining an SOP "Mother Book Manual" of operating and loss-prevention procedures. Using concise, bullet-point, lean, documented language to train everyone the exact same way is not valuable; it is invaluable. My first exposure to standard operating procedures was before my business career in the Marine Corps. Trust me, you will learn the importance of doing tasks exactly right, the first time, in that disciplined crucible of task-oriented type-A leaders.
Without written SOPs, all you end up with is business confusion, contradictions, various opinions and various training methods on how to operate, disappointed customers and eventually pissed off owners. I know that last point for a fact as that's who has hired me and why I made a living consulting for many, many years. Angry, bleeding owners were my client base. They kept me around because programs like this work.
In the Trenches Example
I was on retainer for a 25-route vending operation riddled with the usual unexplained cash and product losses. A great many thieves, slugs and entitled employees from hell had made their home in this client. Over time I had tremendous success in investigating, documenting, interviewing/interrogating dishonest employees, and providing liability-free clean endings and restitution when possible.
I was then asked to oversee the reorganization and take over the day-to-day management of dispatch/service, referb and installation, writing mid-management reviews -- the whole nine yards. This was far past just being an outside hired gun and I accepted and welcomed the challenge as the client was close to my home and I had a great relationship with the owner. It was a fascinating engagement I thoroughly enjoyed.
After an assessment of all three departments, I found what I had suspected. No written SOPs, everyone pointing fingers at one another for constant quality and service failures (with sales just as angry as the owner) and, last but not least, in every department, many long-term employee tails wagging the middle management dogs. As often happens over the decades, a good ole boy network of long-term inmates were quietly running the asylum.
Fast forward 18 months. Here were the results of sweeping changes in management and individual accountability I led after the first full accounting year:
>> Service Payroll was reduced 27%
>> The combined operating budget was reduced 28.5%
>> Service call response time was reduced 32%
>> Quality was vastly improved
>> Customer complaints were slashed
>> The owner was no longer pissed off
>> The chain of real command was restored
I could never tell the entire story in just a blog but one of the first things I did, after letting everyone know there was a new sheriff reviewing the day-to-day operations, was put the best minds together and write some basic SOPs. After the basics were covered, I put them together in an SOP Mother Book Manual. Everyone affected received their very own manual with their name on it. We had face-to-face meetings and went over every SOP word for word.
If a rank-and-file employee made a good suggestion or point we added it in, or made the agreed-upon change. Everyone reviewed the manual and had a chance to buy into the SOPs before we rolled them out. When someone ignored them and I found out, they were immediately called into my office and written up, if they continued to violate another SOP, causing problems, they were put on a performance improvement plan (PIP).
Every employee I have ever put on a PIP has either immediately improved their performance or soon was no longer a problem as they were set free with indisputable documentation. (This will be a topic of a future blog). Expect violations at first as some employees despise change. I have a word about "change blockers" at the close of the blog. Remember this: A barking dog who never bites is soon ignored.
Here are highlights of the first draft of the SOP Mother Book Manual that was the foundation of the powerful bottom-line results detailed above. If you want to create your own Mother Book Manual this could be a good guide.
Support Services SOP Manual
Overview: A standard operating procedure manual is a set of written instructions that document routine or repetitive activities followed by employees. The development and use of SOPs are a critical part of any successful quality/customer service system as it provides employees with the information to perform a job properly, and facilitates consistency in the day-to-day quality performance and integrity of the support services team.
Purpose: SOPs detail the regularly recurring work processes that are to be conducted or followed within support services. They document the way activities are to be performed to ensure consistent conformance to technical, productivity, customer service requirements and data quality.
SOPs should be written in a concise, step-by-step, easy-to-read format. The information presented should be unambiguous and not overly complicated. The document should not be wordy, redundant or overly lengthy. S.O.P.s should be simple and as short as possible. Information should be conveyed clearly and explicitly to remove any doubt as to what is expected and required.
The 1,001 "what ifs" can never be covered by any SOP or manual. The intent is to provide commonsense clear direction in critical areas. The spirit is to provide a foundation for the team to adapt, improvise and overcome using the SOPs as a guide and a foundation.
Evolution/Feedback: There is always a better way and over time SOPs will adapt, improvise and overcome challenges with the best feedback and recommendations coming from those closest to the work. Please forward your recommendations to your supervisor for review and possible adaption.
SOP Acknowledgement: Every support services employee will be given a copy of every SOP and an acknowledgement form that the employee will sign and return to customer service or refurb to be maintained in the master SOP manual at both locations. This list will be audited the first of every quarter.
Here are the first seven SOPs I came out with to revamp and provide written training to technicians as payroll was slashed, productivity and quality was increased and the budget was made for the first time in close to a decade.
Table of Contents
1.  SOP #1 -Technician SOP Acknowledgement Form
2.  SOP #2 - Work Orders
3.  SOP #3 Area Manager Calls
4.  SOP #4 Parts Accountability
5.  SOP #5 Customer Service & Micromarket Service Calls
6.  SOP # 6 Real-Time GPS Single-Call Dispatch Procedures and Protocols
7.  SOP #7 Refunds
This program was so successful that I later expanded it to a Route Drivers SOP Manual and will write about that and offer it in a future blog
Change Management
Let me close this blog with this interconnected insight. Successfully building your business with written SOPs is going to require constant change management, because one of the constants you will face is the need to change, adapt, improvise and overcome (learned that in the Marine Corps too). But it is important you understand the three types of employees in relation to change.
1.  20% will be change-friendly and actively back the SOP program or any change effort.
2.  50% will sit on the change fence assuming a neutral position waiting to see what happens with the change. If there is significant employee/management or management/management conflict, they will wait, swaying back and forth, to see who wins.
3.  30% will resist change. They're antagonistic towards it and often deliberately try to make it fail, both aggressively and passively. There will be intense often hidden guerrilla warfare from some them.
There can be "change blockers" and or people who love to take short cuts no matter the effect on customers or the company in every rank throughout the company. I have had to deal with long-term entry-level rank-and-file change blockers and senior VP change blockers and these destructive employees in every position in between.
They must be converted to change-friendly employees or set free…to block change or take short cuts someplace else. Change blockers can and will destroy your company if not dealt with. They are stubborn, ego-driven, entitled, narrow-focused control freaks more concerned about their own tiny little world than the good of the company or the customer. Once identified confront them.
Recently I wrote a blog on employee hiring and screening and offered a four-page free interview evaluation form to anyone who sent me an e-mail requesting it. It was popular and many readers asked for it and received it.
The above service SOP manual with seven basic SOPs was customized for a particular company during a transition going paperless and just starting using real-time GPS in dispatch, but it could be a good template for starting your own SOP manual if needed. If you are interested in it, just send me an e-mail request and on behalf of myself and Vending Times I will e-mail it back to you.

  » Mark Manney is the founder and chief executive of Loss Prevention Results Inc.(LPR). He is also the author of: “The Brave New World of Micromarket Loss Prevention” a 50-plus page step-by-step Micromarket Loss Prevention manual available in the Vending Times Bookstore ( For more information on LPR’s versatile capabilities, call (919) 812-3602 or e-mail or visit the LPR website at