Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have been developed in the military so that commonly performed tasks can be completed in the safest and most efficient manner possible. The military has also developed SOPs to deal with contingencies. When a contingency occurs, training takes over and team members are able to perform under high stress situations like a firefight.
SOPs also apply to business and life. An example SOP for a lost child in a public place is for the child to remain calm and stay in the general area, wait several minutes for parents to come back, and if they do not, approach the first woman with children they see.
SOPs like this make sense, but in order for them to work they must be rehearsed. Your child has to be able to do this under the real stress of being lost, and the only way that will happen is through practice and discovering the challenges they will face.
In the same way, the SOPs in your workplace need to be tested.
In 2008, I was a SEAL Task Unit Senior Enlisted Advisor going through our unit training. Jocko had recently taken over as the lead trainer and was adjusting our syllabus to make it more realistic for combat. At that time, I had nineteen years of experience with three combat deployments. All of the other leadership in my task unit also had combat experience. This combined experience made us confident in the procedures we had developed…until our SOPs fell apart during training, resulting in lost gear, a hard time getting a good head count, and even a blue on blue situation.
Taking Extreme Ownership, we adjusted our SOPs and rehearsed them. This process of testing and rehearsing never stopped, even on deployment. After every operation we would conduct a “hotwash”, a debrief specifically looking for ways to improve. Through this process, we constantly refined our SOPs and sometimes even changed them outright.
I witnessed the results of our new SOPs during the most intense deployment of my career in Afghanistan, 2009. I credit the hard training of Jocko and the training instructors and our willingness to modify our SOPs with how effective we were on the battlefield.
Whatever your mission may be, good SOPs will make you better. But for your SOPs to be effective, you must rehearse them, regularly test them, and be humble enough to adjust as necessary.