Whether you recognize it or not, your business already has a system. But when tasks take too long, cost too much or create substandard results, your system needs anything from a little Botox to a full face lift. Here are six-steps to help you see what you’ve got, identify where it’s going wrong and fix your system to get your business humming.
Step 1: Document Your Current System
Without documentation, you can’t get a clear picture of what you’re doing now, much less how to make it better. Don’t assume that you know what each employee does. Talk to them before you write down every step, identifying who is responsible for performing each task and the flow of work from one employee to the next.
Many employees will have opinions regarding what tasks need to change (or go away entirely). Encourage them to voice their thoughts so that you can note down that information, too. You are now armed with a playbook that you can review before moving to the next step.
Step 2: Eliminate Unnecessary Tasks
Scan your documentation for clearly unnecessary or redundant tasks (including those exposed during employee feedback), and get rid of them. If your employees are performing ten steps when five steps would do the job without loss of quality, they are wasting valuable time. And the extra steps may even make their work less accurate.
This is not a do-it-yourself process. Before eliminating tasks, talk again to the people who perform them, as well as everyone connected with the process. If Joe recommends eliminating two quality checks in his process, but Mary says she spends too much time correcting Joe’s errors, you need to figure out why Joe is so error-prone, and then fix it.
Make sure that you enter these and other changes into your documentation. You’re going to need it later (and forever).
Step 3: Automate
Your employees can become more effective when you judiciously introduce some automation to the process. With technology costs coming down and becoming easily accessible through the cloud, this is now more viable than ever. Sometimes, you can also automate with a simple tweak. A tool as simple as setting up an auto-responder provides amazing value by buying extra time for responding to email requests.
Step 4: Monitor Results
Until you try out your new system, you cannot be sure of its success. After implementation, keep a sharp eye on the results. Are operations moving along more efficiently in the hands of happier employees? Or is the process hitting bottlenecks while your employees have become numb with boredom? If the latter, work may slow down, leaving you with a system that looks good on paper, but requires further adjustment.
Step 5: Make Tweaks
If you expect to get everything right the first time, think again. This is typically an iterative process involving testing, tweaking and documenting. You probably will see improvements on your first attempt, but no system is perfect. A tweak made to one task may create issues in a later step.
After tweaking problem areas, change the documentation so that your employees will know the steps that they need to perform, and monitor the results again. Rinse and repeat until the system works well.
Step 6: Update Documentation
Once you are satisfied with your new system, it’s time to formalize the documentation. Your employees will need to follow a procedures manual until they know all of the steps. And, when you hire new employees, you can reduce training time while increasing accuracy when they have a step-by-step manual at their fingertips.
Of course, no system is forever. As your business changes, additional changes to the process are almost inevitable. And, let’s face it: busy business owners don’t have the free time to change documentation on the fly — or even think about it, so put a periodic review on your calendar.
Your review may uncover missing information or, more importantly, the need for system enhancements. A semi-annual or annual review requires only a small effort (sort of like regularly straightening your closets, rather than waiting for a major mess). This effort ensures that your information is accurate, while alerting you if it’s time to go back to Step 2.
A Good System Does Not Stifle Creativity
Remember: a great system for your business does not equate to a mindless factory assembly line. Remove unnecessary, confusing or redundant tasks, and you free minds to develop new ideas. Everyone, from yourself on down, can add meaningful contributions to your business.