How To Embrace Systems For Your Business
As you probably know, we’re passionate about systems because we’ve seen how systems can help small businesses thrive. When good systems are implemented, they help ease day-to-day frustrations, free up employees to focus on doing their best and improve customer satisfaction. Additionally, systems increase the market value of a business and make them more sellable.
The problem is that implementing systems isn’t a skillset most business owners have naturally. In fact, many of you may have tried to implement systems, but feel they failed. Capturing the “how we do it here” isn’t always easy, not only do you need to capture “what to do” and “when to do it” from a logical sense, you also need to capture the heart logic that blends in the “why” we do it this way, or the spirit behind doing it in a way that sets your business apart.
We often hear that systems stifle creativity, feel robotic or that a subject matter is too complicated to put into a system. And on one hand we understand, after all you and others in your business may have spent years crafting your knowledge, gaining education, and building experience. Trying to replicate that in a systemic way in which others can put it into action can feel overwhelming.
Yet, just like you, we’ve spent a lot of time perfecting our own craft, which includes writing systems that work, but more importantly in crafting a culture that embraces systems. See, systems are not a one-and-done project within your business. To work, your business must be able to inspire your employees to buy into the idea that systems not only work but also make their work easier and less frustrating.
So today, let’s focus on how to get your team to embrace systems:
- Paint a picture. Have you ever called the cable company or a major cell phone provider? It’s easy to spot their systems and scripts. Often, because the customer service rep is not connected to the overall result of the conversation it seems like they are there just to answer the phone, follow their script and go home. As the consumer, it’s frustrating! It’s also exactly what you want to avoid! Before engaging your employees in the idea of systems, it’s a great idea to put these examples on the table and discuss them. Have them be a part of painting the picture of what you don’t want first, then together focus on painting the picture of the results you want a system to provide, for them, for your business and for your customer.
- Systems are tools with heart and logic. While a good system may solve 80-90% of the situations it was designed to solve, 10-20% of the time you might need to make an exception. A good system allows for exceptions. A good system highlights the result of the system, which outweighs the rigidness of the “how-to” section. If you’re not getting the right result, a good system will tell you what to do, because systems are about heart and logic. While your systems should include a detailed “how-to” section they also need standards, exceptions, and guidance that includes the heart of the issue. This keeps your systems from becoming rigid, unhelpful and robotic.
- Use a non-related activity to drive home the point of systems. When first discussing systems with your team, have fun! If you don’t want to be rigid and robotic, don’t roll it out in a way that isn’t fun. We find a non-work-related activity can really help discuss systems. For instance, buy all the ingredients needed to make peanut and jelly sandwiches. Put the ingredients in front of your team and give them 10 minutes to write down the steps to make a sandwich. Next, ask everyone to pass their instructions to the left and instruct them to make the sandwich ONLY following the directions in front of them. Some won’t even be able to open the jar based on the basic instructions they received. The results are always funny, and it lightens the mood. Then it’s time to show your team a masterpiece: the perfect sandwich, with the crusts cut off, toasted with a toaster they don’t have access to or using a special jelly made from scratch. And there begins the discussion that draws your team into systems thinking! What goes on inside a business is often more implied than explicitly communicated. Where are the gray areas of decision making? Where do you feel stuck? Where do you feel you don’t have the right tools? This opens the door to systems that help everyone on the team do their work with less frustrations.
- Change your conversations. When things go wrong in a business without systems emotions can easily flare and the finger-pointing and blame often begins. When a systems-based business has an issue the first step should be, “Let’s look at the system and figure out how to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” This takes away the blame and the defensiveness that tends to get in the way of problem solving. It’s not about finding fault with the person executing the system, but it is about continuous improvement of your systems. This ensures that systems are being followed and updated and improved as the business evolves. It takes the pressure off having to have “perfect” systems, because you’re always open to improving them. When systems are continuously improved, they remain a relevant and vital part of your business.
Systems must become a part of your ever evolving organization. An established culture which includes systems won’t allow them to become stale, forgotten or robotic. We like to joke with clients that if you don’t want robotic systems then don’t write them to be robotic, because you’re the author. You get to set the tone. And setting that tone is vital. If you’re unsure of how to write a system, you should talk to one of our business coaches. Whether you’re looking to write a technical “how-to” system or even a basic “problem-solving” system, we can help.