“What is standard in your office? Or is there a standard? Because I know there is disagreement on how we do it in our office.” Ninety minutes into a training, this was the conversation among the team participating in the workshop. Yes, the workshop’s focus was on a technical finance component, but what emerged was a dynamic conversation about a recurring internal sticking point about standard operating procedures across offices—all within the same company.
In the deal community, investors, bankers, clients, accountants, and attorneys often have multiple offices and thus frequently reside in different cities. Given the frequent travel and the multiple diligence streams required to close a deal, a company with a single office can easily find itself grappling with the very same topic as our client. Standard operating procedures (aka “SOPs”) are not sexy, yet they are foundational to efficiency and freeing up staff to tackle the higher impact problems.
Foundational knowledge and the lack of panache make SOPs easy to skip over within all professions. However, the little things often are the points of friction that inhibit optimal performance. The stress and friction of everyday execution can be lowered by focusing on foundational knowledge. At military academies first year cadets are required to learn volumes of information and recite things such as rules, military history, or even the menu for that day’s lunch before being able to proceed with a simple task such as dining. This practice is to formalize base knowledge and norms, allowing for greater interoperability within classes and across the campus. It is meant to free up having to decide about the mundane to focus on the substantive and critical decisions. In corporate America, we often lack that uniform on-boarding and collective mentorship necessary to get new team members up to speed and keep everyone on the same page.
Training can bridge that gap and provide a pause from the day-to-day hustle to revisit foundational principles and help establish SOPs and a common starting point. This helps facilitate getting everyone on the same page, regardless of when they were hired or joined the team. Training—when done correctly—forces people to examine the how and why they do something. Training facilitates the inquisitive to ask: “How do we do this better? And, how do we work more efficiently?”
The answer to this is often NOT a video, a new piece of technology, or a new sales tool. Rather, it is focusing on the things the organization—your team—does daily. Focusing on the items, tasks, and topics that clients rely on most. It is embracing the idea of mastery (often of the seemingly small or trivial things) in a time that frequently screams for innovation and novelty.
To our own delight and surprise, in each workshop, our clients continue to ask and answer the questions of how to be better and how to work more efficiently as a team. This might manifest in remembering sticking points of one’s own development now that they manage resources or re-evaluating standard documentation procedures. No matter the friction point being remedied, Private Equity Primer welcomes the opportunity to support deal teams in the pursuit of higher performance and improved outcomes by providing the means to not only develop new skills but to re-examine and build upon foundational principals. Feel free to reach out to us to discuss ways that different deal teams and organizations are implementing and refining their SOPs and how we cover those in some of our trainings.
BONUS THOUGHTS: For those looking for a deep dive on the subject of standing operating procedures and management we recommend reading Extreme Ownership by former Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin,. The authors discuss the importance of SOPs throughout, but also dedicates one particular chapter to their importance. A short excerpt from Extreme Ownership on the topic:
“Instead of making us more rigid and unable to improvise, this discipline actually made us more flexible, more adaptable, and more efficient. It allowed us to be creative. When we wanted to change plans midstream on an operation we didn’t have to recreate an entire plan. We had the freedom to work within the framework of our disciplined [standard operating] procedures.”
As a sneak peak of things to come from Private Equity Primer, we will soon be launching The Deal Sherpa’s Bookshelf: Notes for Enhancing Professional Development for the Deal Professionals where one (or more) of our Deal Sherpa’s will summarize the insights gained from books read or other resources. If you would like to be notified when these insights are first available, let us know by sending us a quick note here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Good SOPs not only stand to minimize unnecessary friction, they can also help alleviate decision fatigue. A strong set of SOPs cover the types of topics and daily decisions that author Greg McKeown discusses in his book Essentialism as “the one decision that makes 1,000 decisions.”