Service level agreements between departments of an organization can provide a wide range of benefits. These include improving communication between employees, increasing productivity by balancing the employee’s needs with those of the organization and enhancing employee morale through continual feedback that addresses concerns before they become problems.

There may also be unexpected benefits, such as fostering excellent relationships between the information technology (IT) department and the other departments throughout the organization. To many employees, the IT department can seem like a world onto itself, while the department may feel either unappreciated or a resource to be accessed only when things go wrong. Service level agreements between IT and other departments can act as an incentive for greater understanding of roles, promoting greater cooperation that results in better system performance.

SLAs can be especially important for smaller, start-up organizations. They are a way to develop respect between co-workers, provide a shared sense of purpose and provide professional rewards while the business struggles and sacrifices are made to gain a foothold in its industry. It’s a way for these businesses to develop good habits from the start.

Internalizing Service Level Agreements

Traditionally, service level agreements have been used to set and monitor performance levels between companies and outside vendors, usually ISP or ASP service providers, according to the established, agreed-upon standards. On the other hand, a business’s employee expectations are usually laid out in an employee handbook that is given to new hires. Based upon the success of external SLAs as a way to clearly define objectives, monitor progress and identify potential lapses between goals and performance, more businesses are using SLAs to improve communications and manage expectations between internal departments in their organization.

Too often, internal departments can operate within a bubble that prevent clear communication and sharing of objectives with other departments, despite the best intentions of management to make operations more efficient. The pressure to get things done on a daily level clouds the vision of the long-term goals for many employees. They may feel threatened by what they see as unreasonable demands or frustrated when their efforts seem unappreciated by others in the organization.

Benefits of internal SLAs between departments include:

  • Tasks and goals are prioritized to help identify what is of the most and least importance on a daily and long-term basis to achieve stated objectives.
  • Inter-department relationships are formalized through SLAs to become more businesslike and professional.
  • Relationships become more structured so roles are clearly understood and employees, particularly in the IT department, become problem-solvers rather than firefighters rushing from task to task.
  • Employees are brought together to contribute to the establishment of goals and given the opportunity to take personal responsibility for outcomes that they clearly understand and are invested in.

How to Create Internal SLAs

Businesses and managers intent on establishing SLAs between departments are encouraged to take the following steps:

  • Define the expectations of each department through meetings that promote open discourse regarding unique requirements and establish realistic goals that are acceptable for all parties. If there are disagreements, seek compromises.
  • Document the expectations so it is clear that all parties are in agreement as to goals and objectives, as well as the best way to measure achievement. Having a plan or record of the SLA in writing prevents future misunderstandings and makes managing expectations easier.
  • Make all metrics of measurement reasonable and clearly defined. This is the hallmark of an effective SLA.

How to Monitor Internal SLAs

Once an internal SLA has been agreed upon and is in place, it is vitally important that it is enforced. This means continued vigilance on the part of management to make sure that baseline requirements are followed and the performance is measured in accordance with the established benchmarks. To do this, management should:

  • Establish a system of rewards and penalties that incentivize personnel to meet stated objectives.
  • Implement systems of measurement that objectively and accurately measure performance and compliance with the SLA. These should be quantifiable and not based on opinion or factors that are beyond the scope of the SLA.
  • Conduct periodic performance reviews. Things move quickly in today’s business world and it is important to adapt to changes to keep the SLA pertinent to existing conditions.

Remember, the goal of establishing an internal SLA is to improve performance and communication, not create added layers of stress or promote competition between departments. They are a great way to create a stellar work environment in which every employee feels appreciated and clearly understands their role in the company. The focus of an SLA remains on increasing efficiency and productivity.

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