Systems, Processes, and Automation

Systemization is one of the topics that’s nearest and dearest to my heart.  Unfortunately, it’s also an area that’s often overlooked by business owners, mainly because it does require some effort up front.  But once they’re up and running, a good set of systems helps everything in your business run much more smoothly.

I’ll be using the words system and systemization a lot, so I suppose I should define them – a system is simply a fixed and documented set of actions designed to reach a specific goal.  Systemization is simply the process of creating and applying systems in your business.

By creating and following systems yourself, and having your staff follow them, you ensure that everybody has the best chance of success – You take out the guessing and the last minute improvisation, and instead give your staff (and yourself) the tools that have been shown to work.

In effect, a system lets all of your staff repeat the results of your best staff, on their best days.  Even better, as you test and refine your systems, they’ll actually let everybody get better results than you could have had beforehand (because you’ll be using your previous best as the baseline, and so any improvements that you can make from there will raise the bar even higher).

One of the biggest benefits of thinking in terms of business systems is that it really forces you to think about how you want your business to run.  It forces you to think about how you want to respond to common situations, and how you want your staff to respond.  In the end, systemization promotes repeatability.  The promise of systemization is that when you find something that works, you can keep it working over and over again.

Of course, it goes without saying that any systems you create need to be strategically aligned.  Trying to simply implement a system that you’ve brought in from outside, without ensuring that it fits with your strategy, is a recipe for disaster (and one of the primary causes of ‘Fad of the Week’ burnout and lack of buy-in in many organizations).


Defining current systems and businesses

The first step in systemization is to take a look at the systems that you already have running in your business.  Because whether you realize it or not, a running business already has quite a few systems running at any given time.  They may not be codified, and they may not be complex, but they’re there.

For example, let’s assume that somebody calls your office out of the blue to set up an initial consult – You may not have a defined “system” in place that your staff can point to, but at the very least, they know to get the persons name, book the time, and let you know about it.  (Of course, if you’ve read the post on “holes in the bucket“, you may recognize that the incoming call areas is a pretty good place to begin systemizing).

Often, the “system” (and I use the word very loosely) that’s in place in most businesses is some derivation of the following:  “I need you to get the following things done every week – here are your job responsibilities.  You’ll be evaluated based on whether or not they’re getting done.  As for me, I’ll do my job the way it feels right to me.  After all, it’s my business.”

And, for a lot of people, this system works reasonably well.  Well enough to keep the business or business alive, anyway.  Stephen Covey once wrote that the enemy of the best is the good.  That’s certainly true here – The enemy of the “best” business is the “good” business.  In other words, because nothing’s going majorly wrong, there is often less incentive to become the best that’s possible.

The opposite of this ill-formed, unstructured system is a structured (but still living) system, which lets you apply things that you know to work extremely well in every area of your business, and measure how well you and your staff are following those things.

That way, you can pinpoint failure points and opportunities, rather than having a general idea that something’s going wrong, or isn’t performing as well as it should.

I’m going to write quite a bit about systems and processes this week, and hopefully give enough examples to help you begin to implement them in your business.  I hope you’ll follow along!