One of my favorite characters from the movie “Up” was Doug the Dog. Doug had a very special collar that enabled him to speak to humans. He was enthusiastic, loyal and easily distracted. He would often lose focus when he heard or saw a squirrel. Mid-sentence he would turn and say “Squirrel“.
I’ve observed how many business owners and entrepreneurs love squirrels too. I am talking about the shiny objects that distract our attention from action and activities that produce optimal results in hopes to find the latest, greatest gimmick that will catapult their business.
Understand, I am not against innovation and improvement. I am all for it; at the right time.
Here are some key strategies that will enable you to be much more strategic when you consider potential opportunities for innovation and improvement. Doing so will increase your likelihood of success by minimizing distractions and squirrels.
Know Your Numbers
Often entrepreneurs are not in tune with actual performance of their businesses in critical areas. They monitor their success by guessing.
A client and I were reviewing their marketing and lead generation efforts. When asked about the performance of his various efforts, he had no idea which channels were generating leads or had converted business. He was wingin’ it and making very subjective decisions about how to invest his marketing dollars as he was getting ready to renew some advertising contracts. I recommended that we do some data collection and forensics on previous sales over the last year. Interestingly, we discovered some surprising truths about his lead generation and conversion efforts.
Specifically, we determined that he was investing over $40,000 per year in a publication that only produced one lead for his company and no sales. Ironically, he thought the ad was working and getting ready to renew for the next year.
The good news is that we discovered that another publication was producing fantastic results and we diverted funds to that media.
Not utilizing good, objective information leads business owners to be in a constant state of innovation and often spending time focusing on the wrong thing.
Be Strategic About Innovation
Attention is the new currency. Marketers are doing everything they can do to capture your attention.
As I suggested before, entrepreneurs can be susceptible to distractions and offers purported to make your life easier, sell more, improve and innovate. When you know your numbers and the truth about your performance, it will help you temper and resist the constant demand for your attention.
In one of my businesses, I observed our leadership team considering an alternative to a software program that we currently have in place. The new potential vendor was offering a lot of bells and whistles that sounded very appealing.
I challenged our team to consider the results our current program was producing and asked if those numbers were acceptable. By the time we finished the conversation, we found that our current program offered all the functionality and efficiency we really needed to get the results we wanted. Yes, the other program was compelling, but didn’t offer any real tangible benefit that would enhance the business.
Monitoring numbers will tell you the areas of the business you need to focus your attention and stay focused on what matters most.
Plan Sand Box Time
Entrepreneurs by nature tend to be innovators. They like to improve things and make things better. It is part of their DNA and can’t be squelched. A simple solution is to spend time researching and learning new things at a very specific, designated time each week. Get in the sand box and play. As an example, spend two hours on Friday afternoons learning something new or researching an area of interest. The key is that you don’t have to take any action after you’ve played. Just satisfy your need to learn and explore. You can also use that time to look for ways to improve something that you’ve previously identified, based on the numbers, that is not working in your business.
In summary, being more productive starts with knowing your numbers, focus on fixing what is broken based on those numbers and watching out for the squirrels vying for your attention.
Last week I wrote about the 7 biggest mistake organizations make when become systems driven. If you missed it, you can read it here.
I also mentioned that I would reveal a couple strategies often used when it comes to driving the process and making the transformation from a people dependent to a systems driven organization. So here goes…
The first thing to consider is that when becoming systems driven you and your business is making a shift in the type of work you are doing. Most people focus on tactical tasks and reoccurring events. These are important no doubt, but they are not strategic. Let’s put it this way. Most of the work being done in business is urgent important.
When becoming systems driven, we are engaging in important, non-urgent work. In other words, if you put it off for a day, week, month or year, the only impact is continued day to day frustrations, potential lack of growth, inefficiency, lack of certainty and a better quality of life.
If we put off the day to day, tactical, urgent important work it might mean a customer is not served immediately, payroll doesn’t get processed, office supplies don’t get ordered or the latest fire doesn’t get addressed. These are important and require attention. I get it.
So, here is the rub.
The urgent important work is always going to exist. It never freakin stops. Never, ever, ever. Believing there will be an opportune time to work on the strategic, business development work is faulty thinking.
So, what do you do?
You must disrupt the flow. I promise you; you and your team will get the urgent work done. It will get done.
Because you and your people aren’t working efficiently. Ouch. Hate me or disagree. It’s the truth. Unsubscribe below if you don’t believe me.
My proof exists in this very simple fact.
If I were to call one of your team members and schedule a call to discuss systems and culture development, their quality of life or even the weather, they will fit it into their schedule. They will still get their day to day work done. Every time. In 20 years of doing this work it have been my experience.
So, your people and YOU and have time to implement a systems development strategy.
The first part of the strategy is to recognize and be absolutely committed to disrupting the work that you are your people do every day and implement the systems development cycle.
Oh…one more thing. You must get your Master Systems List in place before you can fully implement either of the strategies. Simply said, a Master Systems List is your index of all your systems that are or need to be documented within your organization.
Here are the two most popular approaches to building systems driven business.
1) The 90 Day Challenge.
The 90 Day Challenge is a process where your intent is to move with as much energy, focus and speed as possible to get all your systems documented. The power of this approach is momentum and results. Your business will be quickly and effectively resolving problems and frustrations that you and your people experience. In addition, having a shorter timeline means that you keep the pressure on the process for a short period of time. As I suggested before, your business will be riddled with distractions and day to day work. Get it done and get it done fast is the key.
The disadvantage to this approach is the fact that your people are going to be under a lot more pressure to do their required share of the systems development process. You might be asking them to engage in several hours per week of system documentation, review and training. It’s worth it however.
Here is a scenario. Let’s assume your business has 200 systems to document and you have 10 team members. Each team member will be required to document 20 systems assuming they are all involved in the process. That decision is for another conversation. But let’s say they are all engaged. That means each person is going to have to document 1-2 systems per week over the 90 Day or 12-week period. That is reasonable expectation but will likely require about 2 hours of their time or more each week.
The advantage of the 90 Day Approach is you get it done and done fast. Businesses that utilize this approach make a game of it, have a reward system in place and people feel accomplished because the time period is more finite and compressed. It becomes a project to them that everyone engages in completing.
2) As Time Permits Approach.
The As Time Permits Approach in full disclosure is not really a strategy but a default method that many organizations take. I wanted to share it because, ultimately, I would encourage you to avoid this approach. This approach adopts a similar strategy as the 90 Day Challenge or even a longer term like 180 Days but doesn’t establish an environment of accountability, expectation and follow-through. There is no challenge, vision or game communicated.
It starts with good intentions but falls short, often way short simple because they is not energy that creates disruption to the current day to day workflow.
If an organization adopts this approach they might, make the shift to becoming systems driven but there is no guarantee of that. Which is really a shame if they don’t.
There is also another unfavorable outcome and it falls on the business owner. or leadership. You lose credibility, because at some point, a vision of becoming systems driven was likely cast by you and chances are your people were inspired by it. In my person experience people love the idea of what system driven represents to them. They love the stability, certainty and order behind the idea. They don’t necessarily want to do the work to get there but they like the vision. Every business needs a strategy to get people to engage in the work which is why the leadership needs to create disruption. If the leadership casts the vision but doesn’t follow though then people lose confident in them.
I’ve experienced that firsthand, so I know. I’ve also seen it countless times in business when the As Time Permits Strategy is employed.
Adopt the 90 Day Challenge Approach
My recommendation is to adopt the 90 Day Challenge or even a 180 Day Challenge Approach. In doing so your business and people will experience rapid and significant transformation, you will experience collective success and the leader shows up as someone who is genuinely committed to getting things done even when it is uncomfortable.
Interested in taking on the 90 Day Business Systemization Challenge? Let’s connect and see if you and your business and you are ready for it. Click here to connect.
I am not enthusiastic about the possibility that when I die I will be remembered as the “systems guy”. Can you imagine on my tombstone.
Here lies Eden Sunshine. He helped 1000’s of businesses become systemized.
All I can say is UGH… I don’t, or should I say, refuse to be remembered that way.
I’d rather be remembered for helping business owners and their employees to build powerfully effective, kick ass organizations that are fun and rewarding and serves their lives.
Now that lights me up…what about you?
I understand why people think of me as the systems guy. It’s because we talk about systems…a lot. Building powerfully effective, kick ass, fun and rewarding organizations that serves their lives requires a proven and efficient approach. Systems are the solution.
I started talking about and helping people systemize their businesses over 20 years ago. Many people didn’t get it then. They often confused it with technology rather than processes and procedures. The buzz word of today is Scaling. Everyone is talking about scaling their business.
The way to scale and grow a business requires a systems approach.
The key to success (scaling, growing, being kick ass, loving to own, giving freedom, add your own definition) of any business is dependent on the quality of it’s systems and if you want to improve the business you must improve your systems.
Even though people have been talking about systems for 20 years plus, I have still observed that many, or rather most, businesses have a hard time implementing and doing it right.
Here are the biggest mistakes I observed, and even made myself, when it comes to building a systems driven business.
1- The systems aren’t actually documented.
Every systems, process, procedure, policy must be in writing. A lot of business claim to have systems but in reality that have information that is stored in people’s heads and subject to memory and interpretation. Solution: Document your systems.
2- The documented systems don’t actually work.
Having documented system that have never been tested and validated to actually produce the desired result is a waste of time and effort. If you want to maximize your lead conversion effort and close more sales, make sure your system actually produces that result. If you want to hire the best talent, make sure you have a great and proven process for accomplishing that hiring the best people. Solution: Test your systems.
3- The system isn’t trained.
Not putting the time and effort to make sure people are trained to actually properly operate the systems is a major problem. I get it. People are already busy. The best companies in the world are very intentional about employee training. Whether someone is new to the business or has been with a company 20 years, they are constantly being exposed to training around core values, culture and systems improvement. Training is analogous to improvement. Solution: Train your systems.
4- No Accountability.
People must follow the systems. Period. Want to read more about accountability. Click here.
5- Systems are not accessible.
Make it easy for people to refer to and use the systems. Have a great online tool like our proprietary system call YODA or go could old school with three-ringed process manuals on everyone desk. Either way, the systems must be a finger tip or a click or two away.
6- The systems are not regularly evaluated and innovated.
As I said before, if you want to improve your business, you must improve your systems. The focus on improvement is ALWAYS on the systems. Read more about the systems improvement cycle here.
AND the biggest reason for failure in become systems driven.
7- Lack of commitment to the process.
We all get derailed. I get it. I’ve lived it through my clients and my own businesses. The tyranny of the urgent strikes us and the business and, before we know it, we’ve put the systems development process on the back burner, again.
How do you fix that? It begins with a commitment from the business leadership. Then an action plan is developed. I will share with you several proven approaches and actions plans that have worked for me and my clients over the years next week.
Finally, you are not creating systems for the sake of systems but rather:
To build a powerfully effective, kick ass organization that is fun and rewarding and serves the lives of the owners and employees. Systems are just the approach to accomplish that mission. The mission will inspire and enliven you and your people.
If we focus on that mission, together we all win. My tombstone changes, (yay!!!!) and your lives and businesses will be powerful, effective and serve your lives.
In the movie Moneyball, Brad Pitt played the role of Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland A’s. The movie depicted events that took place during the early 2000’s when Beane popularized an approach to baseball that is often referred to as Moneyball.
At the time, Moneyball essentially was a way of valuing professional baseball players based on their ability to get on base. The Moneyball approach applies a very specific statistic that focuses on acquiring players that have the greatest likelihood of getting on base based on percentages at bat for the lowest possible salary.
The approach would often minimize the importance of other qualities often favorable in baseball, in favor of opting for a player with the lowest possible salaries and highest on base averages. Lesser known players were acquired in favor of future hall of famers if the statistics worked.
In 2000, the Athletics became the first team in the 100+ years of American League baseball to win 20 consecutive games. I wish I could report that the A’s won the World Series during this time period, but they didn’t. They did, however, improve the teams winning record coming in first or second in their division for many years following the new strategy and doing so with the 4th lowest league salary.
This got me thinking. Is there a key statistic that a business could focus on that would ultimately impact the overall performance of the company? Remember, Beane wanted to win games. He focused on getting people on base to support that outcome. His statistics gave him the information that would help him acquire the best players for the lowest price.
We all know in business what winning the game is, right? If not, let’s set up a time to talk about it. The question is “what is the core statistic that a business should focus on that will ensure that they win at business?”.
The answer is the Systems Performance Score.
Allow me to explain. As you already know, I operate from the premise that:
The key to success of any business is dependent on the quality of its systems. If you want to improve your business, you improve your systems. Since that is true then we must have a method for improving and scoring the performance of our systems.
I’ve put together a simple system that scores the quality of a businesses systems. Using this methodology enables the business to quantifiably focus the organization, like Beane did with player recruiting and the teams strategic focus, to intentionally and systematically improve the business through continual systems improvement.
When scoring a system, the Level 7 System guides us to score four primary areas.
1) Is the system producing the results it is intended to produce?
2) Is the system cost effective?
3) Is the system congruent with the company culture?
4) Is the system easy to follow and use?
We rate each of these questions on a scale of 1-5. 5 being the best. The higher the overall score for the system, the better the system is doing. Once you’ve scored all your systems, then you have a baseline Systems Performance Score.
The business development and improvement strategy of your organization is to continually innovate and improve your systems to elevate the total Systems Performance Score.
Rather than randomly chasing improvement, innovation and growth, the Level 7 System shows us to be systematic, disciplined and intentional in our strategy to growing a thriving, high performance entity. Want to win the world series of business, then focus on your Systems Performance Score.
I am going to be in hot water after sharing this one, but I just couldn’t resist.
The other day my wife and I were chatting about an event I was preparing to have at our home. As I shared with her some of the things I was doing she began to tell me what I should do differently…um…I mean… she offered her suggestions.
I looked at her and said, “You just always have to be in charge, don’t you?”
Without hesitation, she replied, “No! I don’t want to be in charge. I just want people to listen to me and do what I say.”
Not another word was said. It wasn’t necessary.
Being in charge means people are listening and taking direction. But there are varying degrees and methods of being in charge.
On one hand, we can be “The Boss”.
On the other we can be “The Leader”.
At the end of the day both could potential accomplish the same results.
The Boss gives direction, perhaps demands performance. In exchange for time and work, the boss will compensate an individual in the form of a paycheck or some financial reward. The individual that is performing the work doesn’t have to be enthusiastically engaged or even care about the end result. In some cases, their only motivation is to do just enough to maintain the relationship where there is an ongoing exchange of money for their time and effort.
Being a boss is easy. It doesn’t require much other than convincing someone to do the work for pay.
There is a distinct difference between being a boss and a leader.
Leaders can effectively engage people in ways that don’t require compensation. If you have ever served in a non-profit environment that utilized volunteers, you know what I am talking about. Leading volunteers is a whole new world. Leading volunteers requires we get people engaged and inspired to support a mission or goal.
Essentially the leader and the boss accomplish the same thing, they facilitate getting a result.
So why do we want or need to become better leaders?
1- People Need Purpose.
More and more people are looking or requiring a sense of purpose and meaning in the work they are doing. This is not a generational thing by the way. We hear that the millennials are all about work environments that offer them a sense of purpose. This is no longer limited to this generation. Seeking purpose and meaning in work is crossing over into all the generations now. What that means for us as leaders is we must learn how to show our people how the organization can satisfy these needs for them. They need it to be more than a paycheck. I understand if your business is making widgets it might be hard to connect your work to a higher mission.
Perhaps your organization can adopt and support a cause that will help you people see how your business is contributing to the greater good.
I worked with a client in the real estate industry that understood that his business was more than just selling and help people buy homes. He committed his business to helping his people get better and improve every day. He adopted the philosophy that they are in the people development business and they just happen to sell real estate. This cause was very compelling for the people on his team.
I’ve also worked with businesses that determined that a percentage of their revenues would go to help kids in disadvantaged areas by exposing them to computers and teaching them programming and coding skills.
2- People Will Fight Harder to Win.
Leaders effectively engage people in a way that draws out their best. When done well, people in your employ that are enthusiastic about the mission will apply more effort and energy by their choice. They will fight to win.
During the Gulf War in the early 90’s, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the United States and their Allies came to Kuwait’s aid. Now I believe the US Military Forces are the best trained and equipped military force in the world. In addition to having the resources they need, they have established a great culture. Every soldier I have met has incredible national pride and is willing to give their lives for their country and our freedom. They will resist any force that threatens our freedom. The culture comes out of a history of great leadership through US history.
When the US attacked the Iraqi Forces and Hussein’s coveted Republican Guard they did so with ferocity and precision. The battle began with an aerial assault from the Air Force and Navy that seemed to decimate Hussein’s Army. When the ground forces finally entered Iraq, the Iraqi soldiers, who seemingly had lost heart and motivation to fight, quickly gave up their weapons and positions.
Hussein was a boss. His military was enlisted to do a job but lacked the heart and enthusiasm for Hussein’s mission and vision.
Interestingly, as the United States and Allies war against ISIS and terrorism we seem to be struggling a bit to overcome a seemingly inferior force. Why? Terrorists fight for a cause; an ideology. They are willing to die for it. It is more than a paycheck for them. Regardless of ideology, their system fosters enthusiastic, focused and engaged support from their followers.
The point is that a great leader and organization can accomplish so much more with a fully engaged and passionate band of followers.
3- Great Leadership Inspires Innovation
Great leadership incites greater participation and potential for more innovation and ideas. Great leaders are wildly effective at communication the goals, vision and values of an organization. Bosses often don’t. As such, people working under a boss lack clarity as to the purpose and results they are there to accomplish. Leaders make it very clear and invite people to look for ways to help achieve the goals, vision or values.
Leaders ask for ideas. And when people genuinely care about the organization, they are very willing to offer their insights, ideas and innovation to help get there. In fact, asking them to participate in the vision and goals of the organization inspires their engagement.
Without asking people to support in the ongoing innovation of the organization, the Boss is often the only one capable of providing relevant innovation to improve the business. That can be a daunting task considering the potential exponential improvement that comes by improving all the areas of the organization versus focusing on just a few that the Boss can handle on their own.
Are you the boss or are you the leader? Be honest with yourself. No judgement here. Just an opportunity to improve.
Are you clear on your vision, goals and values? Do your people really know them and do they REALLY care? If not, you might be the boss.
Being the leader requires intentional engagement and inspired communication that raises enthusiasm, fosters buy-in and invokes loyalty to the organization.
Whether you are the Boss striving to be a better leader or a competent leader looking to improve here are a couple starting points.
- Begin by defining your vision, your goals and values. Get them in writing.
- Ask yourself the question, will these matter to our people. If not, revise. If so, continue.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate until they get it. And you will know when it happens and it will be an amazing thing.
“Why can’t you just be happy?” my wife asked me recently.
I paused and thought about it for a moment. “But I am happy. I am very blessed.” Then I preceded to give her a run down of all things I am grateful for including my marriage, kids, my business, health, friends etc.
I continued. “Baby (that’s my pet name for her), I think you are confusing happiness with contentment.”
“I am happy but I am never content. I don’t think I will ever be content. It is simply not my nature.” At that point I gave her a brief lesson on the nature of entrepreneurs.
Understand that true entrepreneurs are never content.
Stop fighting your nature. I have found over they years that virtually every entrepreneur struggles with being content or satisfied. They struggle because they believe that someday they will arrive and finally be content.
Sorry! It ain’t going to happen. Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. Their radar is constantly up and observing things that aren’t working or could be improved. We seek out opportunities to make things better and then hopefully take action to make things better.
We are always looking at things to improve. To the outside world this appears to be someone who is not happy with the way things are.
This nature extends beyond business. It shows up in our marriages, our health, our expectations of our children and so on.
Being an entrepreneur is a gift. We see things that most people don’t. We drive progress. We innovate. We improve.
The moment we stop being content, we cease to operate within our gifting. We stop being an entrepreneur.
Being an entrepreneur REQUIRES that we are discontent. The struggle for many of us to to equate contentment with happiness.
You can be discontent and still be happy. In fact, when you accept that fact that your nature is to be discontent, that in itself should leave your feeling happy.
Why? Because you are operating from a place where you living your true self. Stop fighting it.
Now, there are instances where our nature can become an extreme. We can simply take it to far, especially in the eyes of the others. Like nothing is every good enough. Nothing. This is an unhealthy and unproductive place to be.
Here are some tips that will help you remain more grounded, feel more satisfied and connect with being happy as an entrepreneur.
1- Take time to celebrate your successes. Specifically, schedule time each month to reflect on the improvements and advances that you have made in your business and life. Celebrate privately and with others.
2- Be grateful. Remember to appreciate the things that you do have. Again, make it part of your daily practice. Whether it be a morning or evening prayer or periodic moments of reflection where you stop and observe the good things in your life and business.
3- Smile and have fun. Don’t be so stinking serious and focused ALL the time. Have some fun. Take a break. Enjoy your life and YOUR work. You are most likely doing something that really is special and that you really like doing.
Now go be happy, be discontent and go make something better too!