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How to Get Unruly Employees to Follow Your Standard Operating Procedures

November 16, 2021 | By John Warrillow

Try this thought experiment: Divide your employees into two groups. The first group is made up of your rule followers. These are the employees who will do what you say, follow your processes, and generally behave the way you ask them to. 

The second group is your scoundrels. These are the creative spirits who are difficult to tame—the superstar salesperson who refuses to follow your sales process or the designer who insists on doing it their way.  

You’ve considered firing these rebels many times, but you know they bring something magical to your company. They are unlikely to follow the rules and will resist or downright refuse to follow your Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). 

Without SOPs that people adhere to, your company runs the risk of descending into chaos when you’re not around. Your lack of consistently followed systems will negatively impact the value of your business, as we’ve seen via the Hub & Spoke value driver we measure over at The Value Builder System™. 

So how do you get stubbornly creative people to follow SOPs? 

How Leona Watson Got Her Most Creative Chefs to Follow SOPs 

Leona Watson started Sydney, Australia-based Cheeky Food Events, where they offered companies cooking lessons as a team-building activity.  

Over 17 years, Watson produced 3,000 events for more than 85,000 people. At her peak, Watson employed 20 people, including several chefs who hated following the rules.  

An amazing chef is one part creative genius and two parts mad hatter. Impossible to tame, Watson found it hard to get them to follow her rules. That’s when she changed the way she approached her chefs. Instead of telling her chefs they had to follow her systems, she made the case that following her SOPs allowed them to be more creative, not less.  

Watson designed checklists of things the chefs needed to pack before every event. By following her checklists like a pilot going through a pre-flight list of tasks, the chef’s mental energy would be reserved for dazzling clients. There was no need to use up their precious attention figuring out how many knives to pack or whether they had remembered the potato peelers; they could simply follow Watson’s checklist, which freed them up to be creative as soon as they were in the kitchen.  

It was a brilliant sales job on Watson’s behalf. Instead of browbeating her chefs into compliance, she showed them how following systems and checklists made them more creative, not less.  

In the end, Watson’s insistence on SOPs and checklists allowed her to sell Cheeky Food Events in 2020 for more than enough to fund a two-year personal sabbatical. Not bad for an industry notoriously difficult to exit.