How to Systemise to Achieve More with Less in Your Business
Systems are processes, procedures and methods of working that allow a consistent high quality of delivery for repetitive or repeatable tasks or decision-making. The benefit of “systems” is that you, as the business owner, can extend your influence and reach by getting others to do increasingly complex tasks freeing you to get on with higher-level tasks and work ON your business rather than in it.
This article identifies the key challenges for employees and business leaders in getting things done consistently in their business. You will learn:
- How to identify desired outcomes
- An understanding of critical paths in processes and what activities move the processes forward?
- How to involve employees – and get them to do the work
- When to use technology
Identify Desired Outcomes
Systems are processes and procedures – not technology. It’s doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. There are two key elements to getting your employees, colleagues, team, associates (however you address the employees in your business) working towards desired business outcomes:
- Accountability, which is knowing what needs to be done and getting it done;
- Purpose, which is understanding why – why it matters and what their part in the whole process is.
When you combine these and combine them with the right REWARDS and incentive system, everything becomes easier for everyone in the business to thrive.
The magic question is how do you get all the moving parts into shape so your business just flows? From my days in the military, I remember using an approach called “The 3 C’s” – clarity, consistency and certainty. With the 3C’s, every business will run smoother – and every business owner has an easier life. These 3 words have more impact on any business than anything else I know except bucket loads of cash.
Clarity of the roles everyone plays in your business is often overlooked. This results in overlap and people either falling over each other OR, just as bad, customers and stakeholders falling through the cracks and getting a less than ideal experience.
Once there is clarity of roles, then. The focus is on Consistency of Activities – which is where systems really come into their own. Remember systems are not the technologies we use. It’s the things we do that move the business forward. It’s the activities that become processes and procedures. If these are documented and clearly understood by everyone, there is a much better chance that your business will run smoother, with less drama and reactionary activity (aka fire fighting) and the business will make more money, find it easier to keep clients and staff – everything is easier.
It’s not easy but it’s also not complex and just takes a bit of thinking and effort. It gives a great return on investment. Especially if you are the business owner and every decision comes through you.
Clarity of roles and consistency of activities gives better outcomes. Staff can see what’s in it for them (not just in terms of pay, but in terms of better, happier working environments. The teamwork improves because with clarity and consistency there is less likely to be a blame culture and everyone is more likely to take personal responsibility. Additionally, improvements are easier to find and implement. All this adds up to more revenue, less cost and higher profits.
Systemise critical paths in processes and what activities move the processes forward?
To reiterate: Systems are processes and procedures – not technology. It’s doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. The starting point is asking ”what moves the business forward?” These activities are the most important ones to document and publish.
The benefit of looking at processes in steps is you can look not only at the RIGHT activities but also the right WHO and where tasks get handed over from one department to another.
When the person DOING the activity documents it and then gets someone from another department (or just someone who doesn’t do the task daily / regularly) to test the process, you can get the ideal opportunity for:
- Others to gain an understanding of what goes on outside their normal role
- Understanding of the impact of one role on another
- Test the actual documentation of the process (are there missing bits because of the knowledge of the person doing the role who does it automatically)
- Get input on how to improve processes and the interaction between roles and departments
To get your business thriving and operating as if everyone was an owner, you need 3 elements working together.
- Plans and goals that everyone knows and understands
- People – the right people with the right skills, attitudes and work ethic
- Systems – the processes that make the business work lie clockwork
This creates an environment that delivers higher levels of. Customer service more consistently making every stakeholder happier and more content.
Transparency means you get your business continually improving especially if you have the right team of people. As a business owner, the biggest damage to your business is YOU if you are the only one who can make basic decisions. If you were to become incapacitated or unable to work in your business, how long could your staff keep it going, growing and thriving before things started to fall apart?
If you are constantly firefighting, doing random fixes and living in chaos then processes and policies will help the business and the people grow. Systemising can feel like a difficult task – it’s often hardwork, complex and dull.
It’s really only 3 steps:
- Identify what needs to be done
- Document the steps
- Put the documents in a single package (or place / document)
From this point, regular review of the processes allows for continuous improvement. Getting people from the different areas of your business to review processes allows them to be reviewed with fresh eyes. Allowing employees to get involved means they’ll come up with some great ideas.
How to involve employees – and get them to do the work
Teams can become dysfunctional and here are the 5 main reasons why:
- Absence of Trust – fear of being vulnerable with team members prevents the building of trust within the team
- Fear of conflict – the desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive ideological conflict
- Lack of commitment – the lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to
- Avoidance of accountability – the need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable for their behaviors and performance
- Inattention to results – the pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success
So how do we avoid team dysfunction?
Sharing information is a key to getting everyone working together towards the same aims AND tracking progress. Not sharing information means that your employees can be unconsciously sabotaging your business growth.
“What your employees don’t know can hurt you.”
Exposing your goals and plans allows your employees to take the positive actions required for growth and efficiency. This will speed up building your business profitability and capital value.
Letting team members see the whole processes and document them, then test them to make sure they work allows you to build an amazing resource with multiple uses:
- A training manual for new employees or employees that move within your organization (especially if you want junior employees to move up the career ladder)
- A quality manual that allows continuous improvement to be part of your culture without blame, judgement or prejudice
- Customer service insights that allow you to find out what customers really value – because with a no-blame culture it’s easier to ask customers what they want, need and value, then feed that back into your processes
- Team building and communication opportunities as part of your business as usual approach rather than as a special one-off project
It also allows you to benchmark against other businesses or even different locations if you operate from multiple sites. When new people come into your business they get quicker views on what’s going on and are enabled to become productive members of the team quicker as well as add their own insights. As a business owner you can more quickly see whether you have the right people, doing the right things, at the right time and for the right reasons.
That makes it easier to get the rewards system balanced because systemizing builds in accountability and purpose. Which means that everyone works together, behaves in the same way as a business owner does and allows the business to grow faster and more easily than ever. It just takes a few simple steps and adjustments.
When to use technology
Often I hear businesses going out to “find” a system to make everything easier and automated. “We don’t need to document our processes because we are getting a new software to do that” is something I have heard many times. Sadly what happens is the business then buys int the best sales mans pitch (the one who listened and repeated back the thing the business most wanted to hear). Technology can make manual processes more efficient – but you need to know the processes first.
There are 7 simple steps to effective software purchasing:
Step 1: Identify your business needs:
Understanding processes allows you to properly specify the technology, buy the right product and implement it faster and cheaper than if you don’t. Many millions of ££ are spent every year on poorly specified technology projects that fail to deliver efficiency and often cause more problems than they solve.
Step 2: Get stakeholder buy-in and involvement:
It’s no use getting in a new system if your employees won’t use it. Nothing upsets a business more than continuous change – especially change that is literally dumped on the employees.
Making sure everyone understands what is happening, why and how they can help make it better, quicker and easier for them is the fastest way to making the efficiency gains you are looking for.
Getting the people who DO the work involved means you are more likely to implement technology that they will use. They are also more likely to stop you making expensive mistakes.
Step 3: Determine your budget
Asking yourself “what difference will this make?” means you can also test whether using technology is going to give you a return on your investment. Spending £100k on something that is ultimately going to only add costs is pointless. Be clear on what you are investing in – saving time, reducing labour input, increasing quality or consistency etc
Step 4: Research possible vendors:
Rarely is there one option and it is worth having a beauty parade of vendors and scoring them against what you are hoping to gain. A cheap piece of software may come with a hefty implementation and training cost (which will continue as you bring new people into your business or if you make changes to the software). Understand what the vendor is selling and what you are buying. Ask challenging questions – and speak to other users (vendors customers) about their experiences.
Step 5: Evaluate your shortlist of vendors:
Score them all on the same criteria:
- Cost to run
- Cost to implement and train
- Speed of implementation
- Efficiency gains
- Testimonials from other users
- Other value criteria
Step 6: Ask for demos:
Demos are useful in seeing what the systems do. Just remember the sales team are expert users (for demos) and you must ask if it does everything on your process/activity list. Figure out where your processes fit and that you and your team like the interface. Test it to destruction if you can.
Any decent salesman will not be concerned if their system doesn’t do everything you as for – they should answer honestly. No system is perfect, but there may be a system out there for you that does 80-95% of what you need. If the software needs to link to other systems, ask the questions. Always ask how much ‘bespoke” elements are involved (both in terms of effort to implement and the cost).
Step 7: Make a final purchase decision:
Don’t be afraid to tell any of the vendors that they don’t meet your needs. Tell them what needs are not being met – they may come up with ideas to solve your problems. Ultimately you will have to make a decision – and don’t be afraid for that decision to be “nothing suits us, so nothings getting bought right now”.