Skip to main content

The Sociology of SOPs

So I spend a lot of time on standard operating procedures (SOPs) and it occurs to me that they say a lot about workplace culture.

There is a branch of sociology that deals with things like this. It is called "ethnomethodology" or the study of everyday life.

Consider the concept of SOPs in the first place. They are rules. They are more likely to be followed in a rule-driven work environment, naturally. Conversely a work culture that prizes innovation and creativity will be rule-averse.

In an innovative environment the people who occupy the highest status will likely demonstrate that status by flouting the rules. As if to say: "What are you going to do about it, fire me?"

In a creative culture the people who must follow the rules are of a lower class. They are not the designated innovators. For them, rules apply.

Think of an ad agency. How esteemed are the accountants as versus the genius who writes a catchy slogan?

This is why we see Hollywood portrayals of powerful, out-of-control types dumping receipts on their helpers as if to say, "You're the shlepper (Yiddish for lowly helper) -- fix it."

There are other workplace cultures where rules are celebrated. They are everything! People wave around field manuals, routing sheets, approval sheets with pride.

I remember one time getting handwritten edits from the CEO, and we had to follow those edits exactly then mark the item "approved" on the routing slip. What a rush!

The other noteworthy thing about SOPs is that no procedure covers everything. You have to know the difference between formal and informal culture so that work can get done. This can take a lot of time and practice and it's helpful if you can get someone to explain.

Generally SOPs are a key but undervalued and understudied element of corporate culture. Observing these details gives a window into the bigger picture.

Popular posts from this blog

What is the difference between brand equity and brand parity?

Brand equity is a financial calculation. It is the difference between a commodity product or service and a branded one. For example if you sell a plain orange for $.50 but a Sunkist orange for $.75 and the Sunkist orange has brand equity you can calculate it at $.25 per orange.

Brand parity exists when two different brands have a relatively equal value. The reason we call it "parity" is that the basis of their value may be different. For example, one brand may be seen as higher in quality, while the other is perceived as fashionable.

All opinions my own. Originally posted to Quora. Public domain photo by hbieser via Pixabay.

What is the difference between "brand positioning," "brand mantra," and "brand tagline?"

Brand positioning statement: This is a 1–2 sentence description of what makes the brand different from its competitors (or different in its space), and compelling. Typically the positioning combines elements of the conceptual (e.g., “innovative design,” something that would be in your imagination) with the literal and physical (e.g., “the outside of the car is made of the thinnest, strongest metal on earth”). The audience for this statement is internal. It’s intended to get everybody on the same page before going out with any communication products.Brand mantra: This is a very short phrase that is used predominantly by people inside the organization, but also by those outside it, in order to understand the “essence” or the “soul” of the brand and to sell it to employees. An example would be Google’s “Don’t be evil.” You wouldn’t really see it in an ad, but you might see it mentioned or discussed in an article about the company intended to represent it to investors, influencers, etc.Br…

Nitro Cold Brew and the Oncoming Crash of Starbucks

A long time ago (January 7, 2008), the Wall Street Journal ran an article about McDonald's competing against Starbucks.
At the time the issue was that the former planned to pit its own deluxe coffees head to head with the latter.
At the time I wrote that while Starbucks could be confident in its brand-loyal consumers, the company, my personal favorite brand of all time,  "...needs to see this as a major warning signal. As I have said before, it is time to reinvent the brand — now.  "Starbucks should consider killing its own brand and resurrecting it as something even better — the ultimate, uncopyable 'third space' that is suited for the way we live now.  "There is no growth left for Starbucks as it stands anymore — it has saturated the market. It is time to do something daring, different, and better — astounding and delighting the millions (billions?) of dedicated Starbucks fans out there who are rooting for the brand to survive and succeed." Today as …