A recent topic for my Friday’s at 4: Sustainable Conversation was focused on systems and more specifically system hacks you can use if you have a smaller company. If you want to check out the recording of our show, click here.  Today, I want to spend some time talking about systems and some easy things you can do to systematize your business.

The truth is without great systems, your business is just not going to run very well, and there is no way it’ll grow to be of any size.  You can always reinvent the wheel every time something comes up, or you can systematize it, and you and your staff will know exactly what to do.

Let’s start with a story from my vending days.

I’ve told variations of this story for years.  It’s about how we reduced our inventory for our snack machines from over 120 items to just 20.  This change didn’t happen overnight.  In fact, it took years and had I known about an experimental system I use now, it could have been one year instead of several years.

When I first started my vending company, we would have our route drivers go “shopping” for the products they put in the vending machines.  I thought they would get bored and not enjoy their job nearly as much if they were told what to put in the machine where.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Not only did my drivers want to know what to put in the machines, they also wanted to know where to put the items in the machine.  They just didn’t want to make any decisions.  They just wanted to do their job which they saw as filling and cleaning the machines they were responsible for.

As we got more clear about what excellence was for a vending driver.  When we got to the point where we had real plans for what went in the machines and where we documented the process.  This made it so much easier for our drivers to know what to do and it made training new drivers a fast and easy process.  This was a bonus for me, and it taught me the power of developing and documenting systems.

You need to start with discipline.

If you don’t plan to be very strict about using systems, you’ll be wasting your time putting them together.  All too often I see good systems developed and not used.  When I ask the owner why, I’m often told, “my employees don’t want to use them.”

That might be the worst excuse I’ve ever heard.  Of course, your employees don’t want to use them.  The reason is no one likes change, even if that change makes life easier for your staff.  You’re going to have to force the issue.

If the change is a big one, I suggest you chunk the changes down in smaller parts.  When your smaller change has taken hold, add the next step.  When the next step takes hold, you add another, and before you know it, the entire change has taken hold and is being used.

What I did with new managers.

I’ve always required that managers that I work with have a weekly and daily plan.  When I first promoted someone to a management position, I would require that first thing on Monday morning they had their weekly plan on my desk.  In the early days, this meant faxing their plan to my office, and after several years we could use email for this.

On Friday, I would make sure I had a short phone call with the manager to see how their plan went and we would talk about changes they would make in scheduling their time and activities.  In almost all instances, my managers would start by scheduling way too much.  Over a period of weeks, they would get it right, and our calls became shorter.

I helped my managers use a personal management system, and after about three months we could stop having the calls because a new habit was established and the old way of just winging was not something they could even imagine going back to.

Find an easy way to document and store your systems.

When I first started doing system work, it was a bit of a challenge.  We would make checklists for our systems then put them in a big book to be used by the department that was responsible for that activity.

Today there are computer programs out there that make the whole documentation process easier.  I happen to use Process Street for documenting our systems.  You can often do this in your CRM or use any of the zillions of other systems out there.

Choose a way to document that’s easy for your staff to use and you’ll be on your way towards systematizing your business.  Well, not really on your way, but you’ll have chosen a tool that makes it easy for you to systematize and use your systems.

Don’t do the documentation yourself.

This is my secret.  When I talk with clients about putting systems in place I often hear the comment, “I can’t do this.  I just don’t have the time.”  That’s why you don’t want to document systems yourself.  You only want to review the systems to see if they make sense.

You want to have the person doing the job to document the system.  If more than one person is doing the same job, have one person responsible for documenting and have that person work with others in your company to find out what best practices is.

One of the reasons I like using programs like Process Street is it’s easy to change the system when mistakes or made or a better way is found.  If systems are easy to change and you support learning from mistakes, there’s a good chance you’ll see your systems continually improved.

Remember who’s the expert.

One of my mantra’s in life is the person doing the job is the expert at the job.  Probably the most important reason you want the person doing the job to document your systems is they know more about it than you or anyone else in your company.

I find that two things happen when we recognize our employees as being experts at their job.  The first is being recognized as an expert always makes someone feel better about what they’re doing.  The second reason is the documentation will be better.  The person doing the job knows the nuances of what it takes for the job to be done well.  Having someone else document your systems also frees up time and allows you to focus on other things that add more value to your company.

What do you think about being more focused on putting systems in your company?  Why don’t you leave a comment below about what you think about systems in your company?


Topics: Creating Value, documenting systems, implementing systems, Sustainable Business, Business Strategies, developing systems, systems

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