Should JDs and SOPs Be Formal or Fluid?

Leadership - Everything as a File

Sometimes we learn from our clients. This one was right.

I was serving as Interim CEO for a tech company building a web application, and my role included hiring a number of agencies, devs, and designers. Frequently I would lean on my personal network and dash off a private email or direct message.

The Chairman was insistent that we follow his preferred method for every hire, including small hourly gigs.

Job Description (JD) Template

  • Plain text
  • One paragraph for the expectations, and
  • One paragraph for the necessary qualifications
  • One paragraph describing the company in general
  • as a Standalone Document (not part of an email)
  • on our shared file system
  • visible company-wide

I protested this as needless “red tape”, since I could email colleagues in shorthand based on our shared history. To me, the “standalone document” request was antiquated red tape. However, he felt strongly for these reasons:

  • Recipients postpone reading long emails. Sending the JD as an attachment enables a one-line email so the recipient can respond instantly and only open the attachment if relevant
  • Having the JD on shared filesystem enables the whole company to potentially forward that description to any leads of their own
  • More eyes to see if there are any errors
  • When it’s time for interview, having the JD on file makes it easier to check whether a candidate matches what was requested

My client was 100% right, and I made this a standard practice for every company I’ve worked with since then.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

The same applies for “Standard Operating Procedures” (SOPs).

At first I felt like this was a “non-agile”, “non-fluid”, “totalitarian waterfall-style bureaucratic management throwback from the 1950s.”

My client said every time we find ourselves explaining to a colleague a particular “way of doing things”, write it down. This includes:

  • Naming Conventions for company documents
  • Folder Hierarchy on the file system
  • Expense policies for purchase authorizations
  • List of favorite places to post job listings
  • Best suppliers for office equipment
  • How we describe our offering (short and long version)
  • Preferred color palette for social media
  • Email footers
  • everything

My initial reaction was that the client was trying to micromanage remotely. However, he insisted he was not — and eventually I came to believe him.

It was rare that he would weigh in on our SOP documents or request changes. And of course, as the business owner he did have every right to do so. He had the right to override me as his hired-gun “Acting CEO”.

I protested “but it’s a waste of time” and he pushed back. “No, it’s not. I’m not asking you to take time out of your day to document things. What I’m asking is that any time you find you are writing it down anyway, like in an email to an individual… put it into a stand-alone document instead, and send the document as an attachment. It’s the same amount of writing. But an email gets lost, while a standalone document can be used by others. It’s not just for me to check if I like what you’re doing, it’s also to save your own time the next time the same issue arises.”

Once again, the client was 100% right.

I’ve adopted this practice everywhere, even in writing task lists for my housekeeper at home. Having it “on file” means that I’ll automatically have it ready the next time I need to give the same instructions to someone else. Brilliant.


Posted on

January 9th, 2015