How to Get Your Business Out of Your Head: The SOP Secret

A ladder ascending to a checklist - get it out of your head

In this series, I’ve been telling you that “discipline equals freedom.”

You give your business discipline by writing down exactly how you want everything done.

In his book “Extreme Ownership,” Jocko Willink says he had standard operating procedures for how his SEAL teams entered their vehicles, exited their vehicles, breached a doorway, penetrated a house, searched for evidence, collected evidence, dropped off evidence and presented evidence. They had an SOP for everything.

This commitment to consistency created freedom. When things changed on the battlefield, operators could change strategies without making guesses.

The best businesses in the world have SOPs for every tiny detail.

Think about the best hotel you’ve ever visited: The room was spotless. There was a welcome note from the manager. Maybe there was a little chocolate on your pillow or some towel art on the bed.

None of those things happened by accident. None happened because a staff person took initiative or had an amazing work ethic. Your experience wasn’t unique; it was repeated thousands of times for thousands of guests. All those things happened because of SOPs.

But where do you start?


The SOP for Creating SOPs


Put a pen and a blank piece of paper in your car.

Drive to the gym.

Before you get out of the car, record where you parked and why.

Walk to the entrance of the gym. If you use a back door, write that down.

Turn on the lights. Write that down.

Flip on the “open” sign. Write that down.

Turn on the stereo. Write that down. Select the correct station. Write down the one you chose.

Continue until your first class begins. You’ve just created your Opening Checklist.

Does this seem like overkill? After all, your staff aren’t dummies. So why write the checklist and SOPs as if they are?

Because you don’t want gaps. Gaps are bridged by guesses. And no one guesses right more than half the time.

You’re better to be too thorough than to leave any room for guesses. Guessing means mistakes, and mistakes mean correction—uncomfortable conversations with people on your team. Do you really want to have to tell them they forgot to take the garbage out? Or would you rather tell them to take the garbage out in advance?


When You Make Staff Guess


Here’s an extreme example:

I once had a client in California with constant staff turnover. He lost all his coaches in his first year, replaced them all and then lost the second crew, too. He had a great location and some really good clients. He was a nice guy. At first, I couldn’t figure out why he had such high turnover.

One night, his staff closed the gym and went home without taking the garbage bags outside to the dumpster.

When he opened the gym in the morning, it stunk of rotting banana peels. He couldn’t get the smell out of the air before his first clients arrived, even with all the doors open and generous application of air freshener. He was driven to distraction by the smell, so he sent an email to everyone on his team. The email was a 200-word rant about how bad the gym smelled, how careless it was to leave garbage in the warm building overnight and how banana peels were especially heinous.

Maybe you’re laughing because you’ve received an email like that from an overstressed boss. Or maybe you’re wincing because you’ve sent one almost as bad (I’m totally guilty).

Of course, the staff didn’t quit over one email. But the owner wore them down as these little breaches of “common sense” stacked up and he stopped calling staff meetings to address the problems. Instead, he berated his coaches in front of others or sent them texts at 10 p.m. to complain. The problem wasn’t that his staff members were lazy or dumb; it’s that they weren’t mind readers. There’s no such thing as “common sense.” There’s just guessing.

So, of course, his third wave of staff left and opened another gym down the street. The owner started over with new staff. But this time, we helped him tell them what he wanted in advance.

Lo and behold, his gym became a comfortable, happy place. His clients no longer saw awkward exchanges between the owner and staff, they enjoyed the cleanliness and on-time schedule, and they stuck around longer. The owner got some traction and his business began to grow.

No one knows what’s in your head. Get it out.

Writing a staff playbook and SOPs takes a lot of time. But we have a shortcut: We give you a full template to edit in our RampUp program.

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