Chapter 9: Systemisation
Systemising your business is the ultimate key to shaping up your business and preparing it for sale. The process of systemising your business can be a closely held secret and carefully guarded. So, the following pages contain information that is critical to helping you design your business for maximum profit. I want to start by introducing you to a simple approach for systemisation. This is an easy one that you can implement quickly with “non-critical” aspects of your business. I’ll show you how to get some benefits now, so you then will be more comfortable with the system approach and thus be able to focus on the important areas of your business. As soon as you see the ease with which it can be applied, you’ll be comfortable to go on to bigger & more important areas of your business.
The Jump Start process will help you eliminate repetitive, pressing problems – particularly ones that push your emotional buttons – by focusing on system failures, not personal failures.
The Jump Start process gets rid of the “blame game,” a natural human reaction when things go wrong. We all look to blame someone or something when difficulties arise, when the real answer is that there is a system missing.
The Jump Start helps you fix that problem or frustration quickly. And I guarantee that it’s not just a temporary fix. When you use systems thinking, you will be able to identify and permanently eliminate the underlying causes of your problem.
The Jump Start serves three objectives:
It teaches you to think systematically.
It helps you eliminate work-related frustrations in a way that prevents their recurrence.
It frees up valuable time and energy, you can better use to focus attention on other important matters.
This common-sense approach has two underlying ideas:
First, everything we do in the business can be systemised, and
Second, people are never the problem, only the lack of systems.
For instance, a business owner who thinks that a lack of clients is due to market conditions or a poor economy is missing the point. I would say that the more likely cause is the lack of a lead-generation system.
Too many people take the “fire-fighter” approach to problem solving. First they wait until the fire has truly got a hold, and then they think that dousing the fire is all that needs to be done. Putting the fire out will surely relieve the problem, but often the cause of the fire is still threatening because non-systematic solutions rarely scale well. For example, when your sales volume increases, the problems almost always get worse. At this point, the fire re-ignites, leaving the business in worse shape than before.
Systematic approaches, using processes, tools and data that ANYONE (with a reasonable level of skill) can operate, tend to scale much better.
The ability to scale or handle more volume is one of the biggest benefits of systemisation.
Naturally, we both know that not all problems and frustrations are systems-related. There will be legitimate personality conflicts, emotional issues, and differences in operating styles that have nothing to do with systems. The Jump Start however, provides consistent ways to recognise which are systems issues and which are people issues.
If the next time you encounter a problem in your business, your immediate reaction is to ask what system is missing, rather than to blame somebody, you’ll know you’re on the right track.
I know, of course, that people sometimes are the problem. And, if you are using a systems solution, it will be clear to you too just who is unwilling or unable to operate your system. This is because it will highlight the “people problem” in a way that is objective, dispassionate and without blame, allowing you to take appropriate measures.
In the Jump Start, the terms “system” and “process” are NOT the same. The difference is that, although a system is a process, it is a process that relies on tools and data, not just individual expertise and experience. A system can also be documented. Only systems can be written down so that they can be retrieved and duplicated whenever necessary. Thus a good system can produce consistent, predictable results each time it is executed. High levels of skill are also not needed to operate a system so that it produces comparable results time after time.
The Jump Start is a system – a system for designing systems. It is 7-Step process of evaluating the frustration, identifying the underlying problem, and creating a system-based solution.
Let me say, your first few applications of the Jump Start may seem awkward, as do most new things. But you will quickly adapt to it, and soon the whole process will seem natural.
The seven Jump Start steps are:
What’s on your mind? What is frustrating you?
Restate the problem as a system problem
Uncover and quantify the underlying business condition
Identify the general system solution
Affirm your commitment to solve the problem
Define the specific system solution
Implement the solution
I want to first point out that this process is designed to come up with general solutions before specific solutions. This is deliberate. If you focus too quickly on specific solutions, it will hamper your efforts to prioritise problems. You may even find that your time and energy are spent on situations that aren’t pressing or even worth resolving.
TIP: Beware of jumping to conclusions. When first looking at a solution to your frustrations, it’s easy to jump to answers. Follow the Jump-Start process fully and the answers are likely to be more relevant and easier to implement.
Step 1 – What’s on your Mind? What is Frustrating you?
Let’s get started. Begin by identifying your sources of frustration. To get you thinking along the right lines, here are some other examples of frustrations and their (possible) general solutions:
Frustration: “I’m the only one that can do this”
General Solution: A process to educate and train others on what I do
Frustration: “I don’t know what my conversion rates are”
General Solution: A system to measure my marketing campaigns and provide reports.
Make a Small List
Identify what’s on your mind and what’s frustrating you. The ordinary business owner has many issues or frustrations bouncing around in his head right now. For instance:
I wish my staff would clean-up at the end of the day.
What problems will Bill cause tomorrow?
I never know how my marketing is going.
These will give you an idea of typical frustrations that you may be experiencing. Think about your business and your daily concerns and make a small list of these frustrations. Don’t be too wordy, just make a simple list. Remember, you don’t have to write down major problems, just start with small annoyances.
This step is important. You need to state your frustrations in very specific language. Avoid broad general terms, or blaming someone or something. The reason for this is if you state your frustration in the wrong way, it can lead you down an incorrect path, possibly to a solution that doesn’t result in a cure for the frustration.
TIP: If you ask someone what their problems are – they will generally tell you one of two things. 1) What they think you want to hear and 2) What they think is the solution to the issue. The challenge is to determine what the underlying issue or problem is and disregard what they actually said. Can you do that with yourself?
Once you can be clear as to what the actual frustration or problem is you have half a chance of being able to apply many solutions.
Select a Frustration to Address
Now pick one of them to work on right now that you’d like to be rid of right away.
Go on to the next step.
Step 2 – Restate the Frustration as a System Problem
This step looks self-explanatory, but sometimes isn’t. I’ve found that when we conduct Autopilot Advisory Services with clients, this step can sometimes take some explanation.
To put it simply, your frustration is almost never a person, vendor or your problem; it is a system problem.
If you describe your frustration as “I can’t” or “we don’t”, then you’re thinking about the frustration in terms of you or someone else. You’re blaming.
You must get yourself out of the equation if you are to convert a frustration to a system problem. You must shift your focus to what is not working, and not your part in it.
For example, say your original frustration is: “Many clients waste my time and don’t buy.” The question is: Who keeps wasting time? If you answer is: clients, you are wrong. The problem is that you need a way to qualify who is a potential client and who is not before spending too much time with them. If you look at the problem from a system perspective, the answer is: “I need a system to qualify prospects.”
Now you have a clear, concise, system-directed statement of the problem, which brings you into the heart of the Jump Start.
Step 3 – Uncover and Quantify the Frustrating Issue
How do you uncover the specific issue that’s causing your frustration? You must ask many specific questions that will quantify the underlying conditions; questions such as how much, how many, for how long, what percentage. In other words: get the facts.
There’s no doubt you will be surprised by the answers, because quantification often reveals very different conditions than those you thought existed. Understanding the hard details will help you to develop priorities objectively.
Now, to get started, ask yourself a good lead off question such as:
“How does this frustration specifically impact my business?”
You’ll find it easier to be specific if you run through a real-life example of the frustration. Another question to ask:
“What results am I not getting?”
Just think about it a little and you will soon develop your own way of using questions to “feel” your way to the underlying causes of frustrations.
This kind of interrogation will soon uncover not only the real underlying causes of your business frustration, but it will also point you toward a solution or solutions that will truly eliminate that frustration.
Here are some good questions to ask yourself to see if you’re close to uncovering the real issue.
“Why does this bother me?”
“How do I know that this is an issue?”
“What evidence is there about this issue?”
“What am I not getting?”
Until you are clear about what is really happening in your business, there’s nothing that can be done. And never fear, as you continue to try to live with the problem, your emotional response to it will escalate and your frustration deepen.
However, by recognising the frustration as a system problem, by insisting on the specific, you will take the first giant steps toward eliminating the emotional charge and actually solving the problem.
Step 4 – Identify the General System Solution
Once you have attained a clear and specific understanding of the frustration you want to fix, the solution will begin to emerge. Then to solidify how this solution should work, the most important element is to be clear about the result you want: you must know exactly what must happen to eliminate the frustration.
Complete the following sentence:
The general solution might be to install a system that will…
For example, if you’re frustrated about the difficulty of always having to find new customers, you might write:
“The general solution might be to install a system that sells new products to my existing customers.”
If you always get lots of client support requests,
“The general solution might be to install a system that will manage client support requests.”
It is not the actual working system that we are looking for here; that comes later. What we are trying to do first is to simply identify the general solution.
Don’t underestimate the significance of reaching this point of the process. You should by now have dispensed with notions about people dependency, and transcended the trap of finding fault. You are no longer cowed by outside forces that you can’t control. You are able to slice through superficial symptoms to identify and quantify actual, underlying causes and effects. But, most importantly, you have learned to think in a new way.
Step 5 – Affirm your Commitment to Solve the Problem
I would like to point out, that there is more to solving a business problem than just understanding it. To solve it takes generally takes time and energy. You must ask yourself whether you are up to it. Ask yourself:
“Do I really want to fix this frustrating issue, or would I rather live with it?”
“Is this one important enough to address right away or will it have to wait?”
“Will this issue ‘fix itself’ by addressing another frustration first?”
Certainly there are some times when you have to choose to solve other problems that will provide greater impact or relief. But remember, this one will not go away. Some day in some way it will have to be dealt with.
Step 6 – Define the Specific System Solution
There are eight steps to this development process for creating new systems. You may not need to follow all steps for all new systems, but my advice is you won’t go wrong if you stick close to the plan. Sometimes, you will see that small systems may require very little and larger systems all the steps and more, but for now it is best to follow the plan closely.
1. Design your system to incorporate the following elements:
A desired outcome: Decide early what you want the system to do and what results you’re looking for.
A sequence of steps. This is the basis of your “system”. You can often build it from existing ad-hoc processes or copy from known “best practices”. It is also useful to gather everyone who understands either the problem or the solution and brainstorm the possibilities. You might already have a system, but it isn’t being followed. Or it might be being followed, but badly, and needs to be fixed. Whatever is the problem; the method must be documented, and then optimised or repaired. Some systems can be bought off the shelf and, if necessary, customised to suit your needs. No matter what you need or decide, you must ensure that your desired results can be accomplished using these steps and only these steps. Try it out with a dry run, and then move into live tests. When you are satisfied, put the new system into operation and monitor the results – making refinements along the way. For now, keep it simple.
Proper staffing and accountability. If the new system needs input from staff to make it work, don’t pick those who already have more to do than they can handle. Assign people to help who have the ability and flexibility to accomplish what needs to be done.
Timing/scheduling/due dates for activities and results. Be realistic but aggressive in implementing your systems. The sooner they are in place, the sooner the benefits will be realised. And don’t nitpick. Systems need not be perfect so long as they represent an improvement over what you are doing now.
Standards (requirements, performance criteria, goals). There is little point in setting up a system and then not following it. You must establish your requirements, performance criteria, and goals to measure, track and evaluate its effectiveness once it is installed.
2. Create operating forms and documents such as order forms, documentation of each team member’s position, policies, inventory tickets, etc.
3. Write scripts for every key communication. In many cases, a script is the system, which is why scripting is a key element of the Jump Start. The simplest way to develop scripts is to 1) record the process as you describe it to someone else; or 2) record real-life telephone or person-to-person conversations.
4. Develop tracking and reporting tools in either printed or digital format. These include quantification, tracking forms, report forms and scheduling calendars, etc. If your people work from home or remote location, web-based forms can be extremely useful.
5. Design a training program that will instruct staff in how to use the system properly. The program can be in written, audio, CD-ROM or even video format (using today’s easy-to-use digital video tools). Your first few training sessions can be “live”, but this is not a good systems solution, because you may not be present or available when new people join your staff? The best of both worlds is to record your live presentations, and then put them into an easily accessible format.
6. Test your new system. Your training program can be a way of testing your new system. If you have someone, who has never performed this task or activity before, run through each step, using all the diagrams and documents you have developed, you will soon see if it makes sense? Do they get the results required? If not, maybe more work needs to be done on the system.
7. Specify the Implementation Process. Systems that really are systems must be imposed by “executive order”. You must take the “Benevolent Dictator” approach. You are the owner, and this new system is not optional; it’s mandatory. You must insist that, from now on, this is the new way you do business. That doesn’t mean you don’t seek staff opinion and incorporate that into your system, but once you’re ready to implement, brook no resistance–– this is the way it is going to work.
8. Determine the communications and rollout procedure, including positioning of the new system and rollout of its implementation. Use your normal methods for getting the message out – e-mail, intranet or whatever other method you have. There is NO excuse for failing to adhere to system policies, guidelines and rules, so everyone must be adequately informed.
There are some systems you use that will be extremely simple, taking just minutes to create and install from start to finish. For instance, if your frustration involves the inability to identify and take action on important mail, a simple in-box system may be all that’s needed. On the other hand, if you consistently run out of parts for your assembly line, you probably have a more complex development project ahead.
Step 7 – Implement the Solution
There is one aspect of this system procedure I would like to stress. Don’t waste any time! Implement your new system right away. There will be no benefits until the system is operating.
Be aware, that the system may not produce perfect results at first. You almost always need a certain amount of fine-tuning. You may have missed a step, and you may have to make minor adjustments here and there. The more complex your system, the more likely it will require some work. Systems are dynamic and you will have quantify and track the system’s operations and results, and continually seek out ways to improve it.
Executive order or not, the introduction of a new system to those who have to use it should be handled with care. It is normal for people to resist change, and they may find any new system threatening. If they have been involved in the design process of the system, it should be easier. However, not everyone will have been involved. To them, stress the benefits of your new system and appeal to their self-interest. In both the long- and short-term, they will be the people who find that the system makes their jobs easier, more productive and more enjoyable.
Try the following process:
Introduce the system in a private meeting
Express your expectations for them
Get written commitment to honour the system
Specify the consequences of non-compliance
Celebrate. Your new system is up and running and you have facts to show that it works. Now it’s time to celebrate. The process really does work.
Why stop now?
Why not try another Jump Start on one of your other frustrations?
I’ll tell you an interesting aspect of systemising your business that often arises at this point in the Jump Start process. If you look back at your original list of frustrations, you may well find that some of the others have already been partly resolved. So many processes are intertwined in any business that resolving one of them will often partly solve the others.
Take Action Exercises
The core business of Portofino Asset Management is working with businesses to get them systemised so the business can run on Autopilot. Our approach is to use our proprietary Business Autopilot System to assist are Advisors & Consultants.
If you’d like some help in getting your business systemised, go to http://portofinoasset.com/