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SOPs: Not an Alien Concept

When new employees enter your shelter, do they feel like strangers in a strange land—with no tools to help them navigate planet Earth? Are veteran staff members complaining about even the slightest change in procedure each time you institute something new? Do citizens have little idea what to expect when they request your agency’s services? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it might be time to formalize your standard operating procedures.

  • This article was adapted from materials created by HSUS Animal Sheltering Issues director Kate Pullen.

When new employees enter your shelter, do they feel like strangers in a strange land—with no tools to help them navigate planet Earth? Are veteran staff members complaining about even the slightest change in procedure each time you institute something new? Do citizens have little idea what to expect when they request your agency’s services? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it might be time to formalize your standard operating procedures.

Standard operating procedures are defined in the dictionary as “established or prescribed methods to be followed routinely for the performance of designated operations or in designated situations.”

And if you’ve read this far already, congratulations! Such bureaucratese—complete with its own time-saving abbreviation, “SOP”—is enough to make the eyes of the most enthusiastic person glaze over.

But the fact is we have SOPs for almost everything we do in life, from making toast to driving a car. SOPs are embedded in our behavior. Leaving the house, we don’t consciously think to ourselves: Take key out to car; insert key in lock; turn key; remove key; open door using handle; step into car; sit in seat behind steering wheel; fasten seatbelt; adjust rearview mirror, etc.—but we do those things, usually in the same order, day after day. That we barely have to think about them simply shows how fully we’ve internalized a series of simple actions that we know will allow us to drive to the store to buy a loaf of bread.

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