Most of us run our lives on a handful of systems. Between our cellphones, our planners and our e-mail inboxes, we have organized ourselves and our time. And if you ever doubt the importance of these systems, recall your panic the last time you lost your planner or cellphone.
Yet as important as these systems are, most of us don’t take advantage of what systems can do to improve our businesses and even our lives.
Systems are simply ways of automating or structuring processes so that they can occur systematically without so much thought or attention—and by more than just one person, so that the business can continue to run if the owner takes a vacation.
Figuring Out What to Systematize
For most of us, there are dozens of similar repetitive tasks, large and small, in our businesses, jobs and personal lives that could be systematized. To identify where you can apply systems, imagine yourself riding in a glass elevator to the 75th floor and looking down into your life and take an objective look at your business, job and/or life from that view-point. Ask yourself questions such as below:
Where are your frustrations? This is an important test for two reasons. First, you are more likely to be frustrated if you are redoing tasks that bring no particular satisfaction. Second, you are going to be frustrated if you have to relearn a task or “recreate the wheel” every time a specific need comes up.
What is holding back your business? What are the choke points? Do you need to generate more prospects? Do you have prospects but a low rate of conversion? Do you convert customers but lose them through poor follow-through? Strategically focusing on your business this way is more likely to spot high-value opportunities for systematization.
What causes you stress? Is it preparing for the quarterly performance reviews? Finalizing your printed catalog? Preparing for your annual make-or-break trade show? Even if you know the steps by heart, systematizing at least part of these stress-inducing activities could yield big benefits to your business—and your well-being.
Start by Writing It Down
The first step in systematizing a process is to write it down. What exactly is the process you go through to handle a sales lead? Place a want ad for your shipping clerk? Train a new receptionist? Include the various steps for personal changes too. If you are struggling to get all the steps down, try the “backwards” approach. Start with the end result and then determine what you did right before that, and so on, for each step.
Another valuable exercise is to document what everyone in your organization does. Forget job descriptions: You want to know what they actually do. This may highlight high-value opportunities to build systems that can be leveraged throughout the organization.
Often, the documentation you create in this process is all the system you require. The next time the task comes up, you can pull out the file and save the relearning. It also becomes the core of the training manual for new employees, which is often one of the most valuable systems you can build.
Do the Cost-Benefit Math
Here are some guidelines for figuring out which of the myriad choices are worth the effort of creating a system:
What are the odds you will be doing this again? How often?
How hard is it to automate? Creating paper checklists is easy; programming your contacts, calendars and technology in general to sync with your phone and other technology. Of course there can be a huge learning curve with technology too. However, don’t give up if the software approach is too expensive or complicated. There are many productivity experts and the main goal for organizing tasks is to create a set of clearly labeled file folders and tags for the electronics for simple ways to search. Again, a well-documented, step-by-step manual is the core of many highly successful systems.
How painful is the task? And how painful is failing to execute it well? High-value tasks, such as annual trade-shows and the like, are good candidates for setting up systems in order to reduce risks and the associated stress.
Can you hire it out? In some cases, the best system is to hand the documentation for the process to a junior employee, assistant or virtual assistance depending on the task at hand. In particular, those stress-inducing tasks noted above can be partially off-loaded. But you will need to do the work up front of carefully recording the steps involved, and how to achieve and measure the necessary outcomes.
Get Out of the Box
As you go through this analysis, don’t be afraid to start with the question: Why do we do this process in the first place? For every process you find that could be automated with a new system, you may find another that can be eliminated altogether. Systematically reviewing your business this way may be the most valuable system of all.
If you want to discuss your issues with a coach, don’t forget I offer a free coaching call and if you haven’t had one with me already, this may be the opportunity you’ve been looking for.
Yellow Brick Road Coaching, LLC, © 2008 Claire Communications