Over the past twenty-five years, my company, Maui Mastermind, has been coaching business owners on how they can build businesses instead of jobs. At the core of that work is the process of systematizing your business - creating a coordinated series of processes, procedures, best practices, tools, and internal controls that empower your team to get great results, faster, easier, and with less time and attention.
In this article, I'm going to share four of our most advanced secrets to making systems real in your company. To be clear, this is not theory, these are the fine points that we've developed and tested with thousands of companies in the real world.
1. Start With Why
Our teams aren't always eager to create new systems. It can feel like more work and it requires changing some of their ingrained habits. We company this by not effectively sharing with our team why systems, and this specific system, matters. Instead we just tell our teams, "Hey, I want you to systematize this." When employees hear this, they tend not to react well. Their first instinct is to wonder what they did wrong and whether you're looking to replace them.
That's a reaction based in fear.
In the business world, we call this the FUD Factor. FUD stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. A high FUD Factor can wreak havoc on a business. FUD starts fires, motivates drama, and creates inefficiencies. The cost of FUD is high.
Anything you do as a business leader that increases the FUD Factor is bad. Anything that you do to decrease the FUD Factor is good. That's one of your key functions as a leader: to reduce the FUD factor.
So, when you start systematizing all of the sudden, you need to realize that people are going to wonder why. Your job as a leader is to tell them why before they start ascribing their own (usually bleaker) meaning to this sudden change.
So start with why. Why is it that you want to systematize this process? Why is it that you want to process out this function?
It's important to recognize that there are a number of levels at which we can answer this question.
Why is systematizing good for the business? Well, because it allows you to train other people. Perhaps it allows you to open up production bottlenecks. It gives the company strategic depth so that it doesn't shut down if, heaven forbid, Cindy, who's the only person who knows how to handle this task, needs to take an extended leave to handle a family emergency.
Why is systematizing good for the company culture? As a business, we want to make sure that we have a workplace where teammates can support each other. If Cindy knows that there's a system in place, she can take her leave with peace of mind, assured that her teammates have her back. She won't have to worry about finding a big mess when she comes back to work. And, of course, the same goes for fun stuff, like vacations. When there are systems in place, an employee can take a vacation without worrying about the messes and fires that might spring up in their absence.
Why is systematizing good for the clients and customers? If there are systems, then clients don't have to wait on just one person to get something done. They can go to a few different people in the company and trust that the quality will be consistent across the board. And, with systems in place, you can grow your support team, which means that you can bring in more clients. You can scale.
Why is systematizing good for the individual? This is pretty much the biggest, most impactful contribution that a single employee can offer a company - creating a lasting system that streamlines work and makes it possible for the company to grow while guaranteeing quality to clients and customers.
So the next time you ask your staff to systematize their work, start with why - why systematizing is good for the business, the culture, the customers, and the individual employees themselves. Taking this step is critical for reducing the FUD Factor. Which means that it's also a critical part of good leadership.
2. Follow the "10% Rule"
We call our second advanced systematizing secret the "ten percent rule." This rule says that, for certain activities, you should invest just an extra ten percent on systematizing tasks as you go about actually performing those tasks.
Now you've got to be strategic about this. We're not going to do this across the board, willy-nilly because not all tasks are created equal. I don't need a system to tell a team member how to find the bathroom. I don't need a system to tell somebody how to use email. But I might need a system for handling specific types of emails. I might need a system for responding to certain kinds of vendor inquiries or for handling payments.
Remember that you have a limited amount of time and attention. So you can't systematize everything. Instead, you want to look for the strategic places where creating systems and cross-training employees will do the most good. Then invest just a little bit of extra energy - just ten percent - in doing that systematizing and cross-training.
You'll find that following this rule yields all sorts of benefits. Obviously, it helps you stay smart about how you use your time and money. It also makes your systems much better: because you're creating the new system while actually performing that job function, you'll be receiving a host of environmental cues to help you. You'll be able to create a system that accounts for all of the different factors that actually come up while doing this task in the real world.
There's another big benefit that's especially relevant when you're cross-training a staff member. If you systematize as you go, then the person whom you're training doesn't just get the benefit of learning a new system; they also get the benefit of learning on the job.
For instance, let's say you want to cross-train Joe on how to handle negotiations with strategic partners. You can meet with him fifteen minutes in advance of your negotiation to review the game plan; you can have him sit in on the actual negotiation; and you can spend another fifteen to twenty minutes debriefing after the negotiation. During that debrief, you can discuss what Joe learned, what worked well, what didn't, and what one or two things you could do differently next time to get an even better result. This way, Joe doesn't just get the benefit of twenty to thirty minutes of direct before and after coaching, but he also gets the benefit of being a part of the actual work - he's present for the actual hour-long negotiation. Think of this as a ride-along.
3. Think In Versions
Beware of perfectionism.
Working with thousands of companies over the years, it's become clear to me that the biggest obstacle preventing people from systematizing their businesses is the obstacle of perfectionism.
"I want to get the system just right," they say.
That's a nice sentiment, but in my experience, perfectionism breeds fear. These business owners put a great deal of work into building systems, but then resist actually using those systems for fear that they might prove imperfect.
Instead, I want to encourage you to think in versions. Version 1.0 of your new system might be an outline. Version 2.0 might be the long, written-out version. Version 3.0 might be a simpler version with some screen shots. Version 4.0 might be an even simpler training video.
That's the real way that you get closer to perfection - one version at a time.
4. Systematize Your Training While You're Training
While you're training somebody, spend an extra ten percent of your energy on documenting how you're training them.
For instance, you may be able to create an outline or agenda that tracks the nine key points that you covered during training. If, instead, you try to remember those nine key points while sitting alone at your desk, you'll probably miss a few.
One way to do this is to take notes while you train. Another is to record the training: you could take a video recording, a screen recording, or an audio recording. You could then get that recording transcribed and use that document as a starting point from which to develop a more effective version of the training later on.
Bonus Tip: Think In Modules
While we're on the subject of systematizing your training, I'd like to encourage you to think in modules. Twenty years ago, we gravitated toward hour-long training videos. But YouTube has changed the world. Today we live in the age of the three-minute to fifteen-minute video. Instead of watching the long version, we prefer to have trainings broken down into component parts. And there is a big benefit to that paradigm shift: with shorter, component videos, we can skip straight to the parts of the training that are most relevant to our immediate needs.
So those are Maui Mastermind's four advanced systematization secrets. But these are just some of our guiding principles - answers to some of the most difficult questions that came up during a recent workshop. There is, of course, a lot more to systematizing than just these four tips.
If you enjoyed the ideas I shared, then I encourage you to download a free copy of my newest book, Build a Business, Not a Job. Click here for full details and to get your complimentary copy.