“Build a Better Business With Systems” Chapter 5
Chapter 5 – Day-by-Day Processes.
This is your assembly line. This is the A-B-C steps of how you build your widgets, work on a file, or guide a client through a process.
This system above the other two (the Decision System and the Big Picture System) is the one that will most benefit from input from your team. The more removed you, the CEO, are from the hands-on of making your product or working with customers, the more you’re going to want the input from your people in the trenches.
Document Your Current Systems
The first step is to document how you go through your workflow now, as is. Break down your business into every workflow possible. This might include the manufacturing of widgets, how customers are greeted and seated or made to wait, how you process payments and how you make deposits, how you handle customer complaints or returns, how you process special orders, and so on.
Write down all of these different processes and how you currently work them, step by step. Once these systems are documented you’re going to have a much easier time identifying where in your assembly line something needs to be tweaked or changed altogether.
It is absolutely essential that your processes aren’t just something you discuss – they must be set down on paper (or in a word file anyway).
Write in Obvious and Immediate Improvements
You’re probably going to see some immediate beneficial changes from your top-down view, write them in right away. Complete the system’s document and get it out to the relevant employees.
Test and Retest
Test the new workflow, and change again as necessary. Test again. And so on. You’re not just fixing errors, you’re working to ensure that the error cannot happen again. It’s an ongoing process and you’ll keep working at it over time to make it better.
A good way to test your systems is to have a new hire tackle them. If they have any trouble understanding a step or two then find out what could be simplified, integrate the changes, and test it again.
It’s important to understand that when you find a better way to do something you get together the authors of the system and you implement it a.s.a.p. Don’t let any form of bureaucracy slow down improvements to your business. “Later” is a waste of your company’s time.
Have a System for Creating Systems
The creation of these procedures is one of the workflows that you’ll want to document. Since a major goal of these systems is to free up time for you, the head of your business, it only makes sense that the creation of systems can be handled by others as well as your business’ workflow systems.
Your staff will also more fully appreciate the power of systems when they are integral in creating a process or two of their own.
Of course you shouldn’t be afraid to check out the documentation yourself – it’s a great way to maintain a Big Picture view of your company.
(We’ll show some example points for a system-building system later.)
Working with the Finalised System
In the end you’re going to have a step-by-step procedure that can be followed by someone if, for example, the employee who usually handles that particular workflow is out sick, or you have a new hire.
You may also find that you have systems that you no longer need. For example you might be storing hard copies of customer interactions – but through analysing your systems you find that nobody ever references these hard copies, they only go to computer records. You’ve just removed some bloat from your company’s time and money.
As the boss, it’s also your responsibility to make sure employees have a system to follow. We’ve all had that boss who just magically expects us to know how to get something done but doesn’t lay out how to do whatever it is, and then gets angry when we’re unable to perform to their expectations. But that’s the boss’ fault, not the employees’.
That means that the process must be followed exactly as specified. However, the process itself can be changed if the writers of the process are deliberately taking a step back for the express purpose of bettering the workflow – but it is not to be changed by just anyone at all while the process is actually in motion. That being said, when a positive change is suggested – change the system immediately.
Sometimes your documented process can be a simple bullet point of linear A. Do this B. Now do this and so on. Other systems might require some kind of non-linear checklist.
Remember that when you’re crafting your various Day-to-Day systems to step back and take a bird’s-eye view of the whole process.
Methods for Making Your Day-by-Day Systems Better
- Allow ideas to be passed upwards. Don’t put barriers between good ideas getting to you from any person in your employ. Encourage employees to get those good ideas to managers, and the managers to pass them on to you (or whatever your hierarchy might be).
The sooner a good idea gets integrated into your documentation, the sooner you start to see profit from it.
- Try to eliminate randomness. Your goal is to find the best possible way to attack a workflow. That means that if people start to randomise (go off your documentation) they’re probably straying from the best way to work the process.
- Apply a system to all of your company’s work. It’s unlikely that there is anything that your business does on a regular basis that can’t benefit from a system.
- Make your systems easy to understand. You want your documents to be so easy to follow and understandable that a 1st-day hire should be able to follow them.
The more you document, the fewer emergencies you as a company will have to deal with, and that will leave you more time to concentrate on building your business.
Once you’re able to hand off a Day-by-Day Process to someone else to follow you’ve accomplished one of the chief tasks of a leader – delegation. You can rest secure that (besides some tweaks to the system) that a task is going to be performed exactly how you want over and over again while you, as the head of the business, get to spend far more time working on the big picture goals.
- Make your documentation identical. Use the same font and same presentation style on all of the various documents for different systems. This consistency in presentation will make the actual steps stand out more. You can however implement pictures and videos where they clarify a system’s steps.
- Don’t write up systems for extremely rare problems. Documentation for problems that barely ever pop up makes it more difficult for your employees to look up the documents they need on a daily basis. This is bureaucracy and should be avoided. The actual problems will most likely be solved with Day-by-Day systems and your Decision System.
- Oversee, at least, the major systems yourself. As the company’s leader you’re going to want to make sure that the Day-by-Day systems work in accordance with your Decision system and your Big Picture system.
Day-by-Day Processes and Your Employees
It’s possible that your people might not like defined parameters for their job at first. But there are four big ways that they are going to benefit from the systems.
- Systems work. They’re logical and hard to deny once everyone starts seeing the results.
- They see they have input in the company. Since you’ve made it clear that you’re willing to accept good ideas from all quarters they’re going to see positive suggestions implemented in the systems immediately – this tells them that the company listens to them and isn’t some deaf bogged down bureaucracy.
- Emotional investment. When they contribute a positive addition or change to an implemented system, they’re going to experience quite a bit of pride in that they’ve contributed to the very backbone of the company as a whole. Their contribution is going to continue to benefit everyone who works at your company for years, even generations, to come.
- Stress reduction. If an employee is following a documented workflow procedure properly then when a problem arises it can’t possibly be their fault and they don’t have to worry about taking the blame. Instead what the error has done is expose a problem in the system itself or it indicates where a customer or client might require better communication, perhaps because they didn’t tell you about changes of address, or that they’ve fallen on hard financial times and need a bit of a break, etc. Implementing systems is most likely going to result in a stress-free work environment and a place where people enjoy coming in to work each day.
- Freedom. Given a systematic structure, employees will know what they have to do, and managers will know that the employees know what they have to do. That means employees won’t have anxious managers breathing down the backs of their necks, trying to micromanage their work.
You can make the search for the better system part of your company’s DNA by offering bonuses or some kind of prize to employees who can spot a problem and offer a better step in the procedure.
These bonuses can be for anything – from changing punctuation in a step’s explanation to making it clearer all the way up to something that fundamentally changes the way your company does business.
No matter if the improvements are big or small your team is now even more incentivised to streamline your business.
Day-by-Day System Templates
Try and have all of your systems look more uniform in presentation. Here are a couple of examples that you can try out.
Example 1 – Simple steps
For the first example, let’s say you want a system to show your employees how to sign up for Twitter. You can simply outline the steps:
Twitter Sign-up Procedure
- Go to Twitter’s homepage: https://twitter.com/
- Click on the button that says, “Sign up for Twitter” found in the bottom right of the lower white box.
- Enter your pertinent information in the fields provided.
And so on. Remember, you want to make it so easy to follow that someone with little prior computer experience, or who is fresh into a position, can easily take over a position by following your instructions. You may want to make it even easier by linking videos, adding images, or incorporating diagrams.
Charts are also a great way to simply illustrate the steps involved in a procedure.
Example 2 – Expanded explanations
Sometimes you’ll have to expand on the points a bit or offer more information:
Extra Hours Procedure
- Check if any shifts are open in the shift log book located in manager Ms. X’s office.
- You must log your request for the extra shift at least 72 hours before the start of the shift. Management will need to check your hours for the week before assigning the extra shift.
- To apply for the shift fill in your name and employee number on the request sheet found in the front of the shift log book.
- Management will assess if you possess the skills needed for the shift and let you know no later than 48 hours ahead of the shift if your application was accepted.
You can also include “Do not” points in these procedures. For example you might encourage more informal meet-and-greets with potential clients, but you make it a clear point that your employees are not to drink at these meetings on company time.
Example 3 – The System for creating Systems
Documenting your procedure for making systems accomplishes two main objectives. First, it lets employees understand why you’ve documented the steps you have in any system, and therefore how they can improve them.
Second, your managers on down will know how you want systems to be created and run so that you will no longer have to create them yourself.
You’re going to have your own way of creating your systems, but here are some ideas to get you started:
- While systems are to be followed exactly, each system is open to improvement. If you have an improvement to a step or entire system you’d like to suggest, get it to your manager right away.
- When a good suggestion arises it is to be implemented into the related system immediately.
- Managers must okay any changes to a system. Both the manager and the person who made the suggestion should sign off on the way the change is worded in the updated system document.
- All systems must be simple enough for a completely new hire to pick them up and get to work without confusion.
- For narrative systems (systems with longer non-linear or “story-telling” explanations) find a way to arrange the points that they can be easily found (e.g. alphabetically, pertinent subheadings, etc.).
- If you’re making a chart or diagram, make it simple and easy to read. Limit your use of fonts and special characters.
- No assumptions! Don’t leave any steps out, no matter how obvious.
- Don’t name a system “Procedure for… X”. Instead, start the name with what the system describes like “Collecting Debts Procedure” or “Complaints Procedure”. This makes it easy to find via alphabetical search as opposed to everything starting with “Procedure”.
- If necessary, you can start a system’s document with a quick rundown in narrative form before getting to a point-form outline.
- Everyone affected by an updated system must read the new document and sign off on it. If you have any problem understanding the update bring up the confusion immediately – others might share your confusion, which means the document needs further work.
To be continued, look for your next BOSS email……