Ever since artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT hit the mainstream in the spring of 2023, I’ve been fielding questions about whether it can be used to create operating manuals (aka Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)).
The short answer is absolutely. It can generate text that tells you how to do a toilet reset or replace an electrical box. (The good news being that it does also say that it is dangerous and really should be done by a licensed electrical contractor.)
There are, however, some issues you should be aware of. To understand these issues, you need to know a little bit about what is behind ChatGPT and other “generative” Ai models.
Note: To minimize confusion, I’m going to be using Ai to mean AI (artificial intelligence) because, well… my name, AI, looks like Al which is why I’m using AL… go figure!
ChatGPT uses Ai technology to allow you to have human-like conversations and much more with its chatbot. It is built on GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) which is a language model that’s been trained to generate human-like conversational text.
ChatGPT bases its responses on what its language model has learned from a huge repository of information. It generates an answer based on a specific “prompt” given by the user. A prompt can take the form of a question such as, “How do you do a toilet reset?” the description of a situation, or other group of parameters.
So, sure, it can be very useful if you need to quickly draft a missing procedure.
However, if you’re thinking that it can be used to generate all your procedures from scratch with zero human intervention, let me explain why you might want to think that through.
Let’s start with the limitations stated clearly on ChatGPT’s home page as of this writing:
- May occasionally generate incorrect information
- May occasionally produce harmful instructions or biased content
- Limited knowledge of world and events after 2021.
Additionally, Paul Roetzer, Founder and CEO of the Ai Marketing Institute has said this:
- “Large Language Models (LLMs) make stuff up all the time, and there is no clear path to solving for this limitation.”
- “This is so critical for business leaders to understand as the adoption of AI writing tools skyrockets.”
- “You cannot rely on generative AI tools to get names, places, dates, sources, numbers, facts, truth, etc. correct. You need humans in the loop.”
Think of ChatGPT, etc. as basically an Apprentice who doesn’t really understand nuances of your business but who has access to a big library of information, who you then ask to take their best shot at assembling a manual. (If this idea doesn’t give you pause, it should.) Would they know the right framework, integration and contextual nuisances for how you run your business?
Here are just 7 reasons it takes more than just words on a digital device or a page to have a repeatable complete systematic system to address operating manuals and SOPs:
- A framework that unifies this all and provides structure is critical or you can end up with SOPs that amount to a bunch of individually written ransom notes. This takes the RIGHT box org chart, depth chart and flow of communications chart. Understand that the Box Org Chart functions as the “bingo board” of boxes you need to cover with manuals specific to each role.
- What you put in and what you leave out matters. There is the balance of TMI (too much information) and not enough information. Plus, there’s stuff that could work against you.
- Tonality is vital as well. They know when you’re yelling at them as things are in bold, caps, or in color or you create a DON’T manual. If you have kids, you already know how well they listen when all you say is “DON’T.”
- Who gets involved in the process and when is also key. Have you ever been to your town hall meeting, a house of worship meeting or even a meeting at your own company? When too many people are involved it doesn’t usually turn out well. (Example: They went in trying to design a horse but with too many involved or the wrong people involved they end up designing a mule.)
- Integration is super important because many activities that go on in a contracting business impact positively or negatively other positions at the company. It’s like a relay race that you keep dropping the baton vs. successfully handing it off and completing the race.
- Knowing how to get buy-in from the staff from the very beginning of this process.
- Properly rolling out all these procedures the right way.
You see where I’m going with this.
That said, the technology is evolving at light speed. Today, ChatGPT’s knowledge is limited after 2021 but Google® (Bard) and Microsoft® (Bing) have already given their chatbots access to the web, so it’s just a matter of time.
The reality is that my blog and other public facing content (including the box chart) will likely be used to train the models. I’m not mad about that. What does concern me is the result you are going to get, which won’t just be created from my content but rather a mash up of different approaches and content the model thinks seems right, which will result in a “Frankenstein” procedure at best.
Be that as it may, let’s assume for a moment I’m wrong and the technology will eventually get to the point where it can generate manuals that are pretty complete and useful. Someone will still have to edit them, because the system likely will still be putting out random stuff that is wrong or conflicting (Frankenstein) that you’ll have to correct or remove.
It takes a lot of discernment about what to put in in the operating manuals (the 80% of what you do day-to-day) and what to leave out (the 20% weird stuff that only happens once in a while).
It also takes human sensitivity to know what the tone has to be. Also to know how long they should be, both for ease of adoption and maximum legal protection.
So you may be able to generate content using Ai but in the end you are going to need to do a lot more editing than you might think to make sure all the manuals are accurate and in sync with each other.
Then, once you have the manuals in hand, the challenge becomes how to get buy-in on the front end, and then roll it out the right way to ensure the staff will not just adopt but also embrace them and keep them in the culture. That part needs to be done by humans who understand what needs to happen to keep the manuals in the culture for the long run.
I know you may think I’m biased but know that I LOVE technology! Technology with a purpose and knowing what it can do and can’t do is key too.
To me, this sounds like a lot more uncertainty about what the end result will be and more work than just buying a package of proven, integrated templates that are 90% done for you, from a real person who can field your questions and support you through the process. (Regardless of who you buy them from!)
I know you’re crazy busy. I know you’re looking for an easy way out of creating and implementing manuals in your company. And we’re all human… so it’s easy to think it’s a cheap way to get what I want and need.
My mission has been, and continues to be, to help my fellow contractors run their businesses with less stress and more success, so if I thought this was THE answer, I would be the first one to stand behind it. Instead, I’m urging you to educate yourself beyond this article and think this through.
If the conversation about ChatGPT has inspired you to get moving on putting operating manuals into place in your contracting business, that is great. Manuals and SOPs done right is what will allow your business to grow and for you to finally get your life back.
I just don’t want you to start down a path where you end up with yet another group of procedures that end up collecting digital dust in your Dropbox or One Drive account, because that doesn’t serve anybody.
Questions? Comments? Email me at [email protected]
Interested in seeing what my proven integrated manuals look like? Go to 7powercontractor.com/soms and request a free 30 minute meeting if you want to know more.