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.
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.
Today’s message is going to be controversial.
In fact, you might become inflamed by my comments. But hey, sometimes we need to be bold and take some chances in order to get our points or messages across.
By the way, if you’ve got some feedback from today’s post, I’d love to hear it. Fire away.
A little over a year ago, as the Republican candidates for President began to reveal themselves, I was excited and hopeful for the upcoming 2016 election. (In the interest of full disclaimer, I am a registered Republican. However, it is always my intention to be open-minded and vote for the candidates who I believe will act in the best interest of their constituents, community, state or nation. Although, nowadays, finding those candidates is getting harder and harder).
In my assessment and research of the perspective candidates, I thought a handful possessed the values, vision and integrity that would lend themselves to being an effective Commander in Chief.
Overtime the candidates dropped out. One after one, despite their positive qualities, they just couldn’t hang with the likes of Donald Trump.
What the heck! Donald Trump was the last man standing.
Let’s face it folks, even if you adore Donald Trump, you have to ask the question; is he genuinely the best candidate for the highest position in the land? I think not. (For you adoring Trump fans, relax, please don’t take my comments personal.)
For some people he has some very appealing and admirable qualities. Personally, I like some of The Donald’s qualities as well. Some. Not all. In fact, some of the things he says and does just makes me shake my head in disbelief.
Donald is authentic. What you see is what you get. The public is starving for authenticity. It doesn’t matter the generation either. We want someone who is real. Donald, in all his imperfections, is real. (He’s like the Honey Badger…he just doesn’t give a ****.)
Some people, including myself, like the idea that he isn’t a part of the Washington establishment. I believe the general consensus is that people feel like Washington and politicians are completely out of touch with their constituents. People don’t see Washington politicians getting anything done other than serving their own interests.
Some would argue that as a successful business man that he would be effective running our country. Maybe we need some good business sense in Washington.
Maybe Donald getting to where he is right now, the presumptive Republican nominee, was just good timing and dumb luck. Maybe his message was significantly different from the rest of the field that he stood out and garnered sufficient support to get enough delegates from the state primaries and caucuses.
That may be true, but I have another theory.
Donald demonstrated effective leadership and we could all learn something from him.
1- Donald understands the pulse and frustrations that a high percentage of people in our nation are concerned about. He realized that people are frustrated with immigration issues, terrorism, trade disparity, how the middle class is getting crushed and how people are sick and tired of politicians and the Washington Cartel.
2- Understanding those concerns, Donald crafted a message that would address those issues. I didn’t say he created a plan. He created his vision. Build a wall. Bomb ISIS. Deal with China. Fix health care. Create jobs. Build a wall. Make America Great Again. Oh and did I say Build a wall.
3- He effectively communicated his vision in a way that garnered enough support from followers to win the nomination. He managed to engage a passionate, committed group of followers to the cause.
Now here is the interesting thing, other than a couple candidates who clearly stood out as Washington insiders, most of the other candidates possessed a similar vision as Trump. The big difference was Donald’s ability to connect with his followers and communicate in a way that inspired and engaged them.
In my opinion, Donald is not the most effective communicator or orator. He certainly wasn’t the most prepared during the debates. In many cases he acted childlike and immature. Certainly not Presidential. This makes what Donald did even more impressive.
Can you imagine if Donald wasn’t so insulting or divisive? If his personality wasn’t so offensive to some people, the election would be over today. And yet, despite that, he beat 16 other pretty solid candidates.
So what can we learn from Donald that we can apply to our organizations and businesses?
1- You better understand what matters to the people you are going to ask to join your cause, purpose or vision. What’s in it for them is the operative question.
2- You better craft a vision that addresses those things. If your people want to be a part of a business that will provide opportunities for continual advancement and growth, you better include that in your vision. If they want to be coached, you better communicate that. If they want to engage in work that is meaningful to them, say it.
3- Finally, you need to be able to communicate your message in a way that will connect with your people. Donald seems to be speaking people’s language. Like I said, he is proposing many of the same ideas of the other candidates. Donald knows that when he says we are going to build a wall, that communicates a more powerful message than we are going to protect our boarders and stop illegal immigration. Same message communicated in very different ways.
Regardless of whether or not we build a wall and Mexico pays for it, Donald has inspired and engaged enough followers to get him to where he is today.
How are you inspiring your people to enthusiastically engage in your vision?
Rick was very frustrated with his business. Despite the fact he was working harder than ever, the business growth has stalled or plateaued. The business is wildly dependent on him and he couldn’t seem to get free.
Jennifer had a good business. Money was decent. She could take a little time off from time to time. But she knew deep down that the business wasn’t great. The business was far from its full potential. Her dream of building something extraordinary seemed more and more elusive to her. The business hasn’t clearly defined or differentiated itself.
The one thing Rick and Jennifer have in common is they are both stuck. They are intelligent and hard-working. Both were on a journey to build a great business. Although in different places in their businesses they are both on the continuum.
We all are on a continuum to move our business from perhaps barely surviving to modestly performing to performing well but yet highly people dependent to a growing and profitable, professionally managed, scalable, differentiated, system driven business that really matters with a powerful and compelling culture that genuinely serves the lives of the owners, customers and contributors to the business.
We have our own definition of greatness and I believe we all want to get there. If not, why bother?
The Level 7 System started with the premise – How to help entrepreneurs build great businesses that serve their lives.
We developed a set of Level 7 Core Principles; productive ways of thinking about business if you will. The idea is that if we embrace the RIGHT thoughts it will lead to the RIGHT actions.
Then came the Level 7 Implementation Program. We need to help business owners and entrepreneurs to apply the right thoughts in the most productive and effective manner. I am happy to say, my team and I have done a pretty good job of helping our clients accomplish that goal.
Everything changes. Innovation Happens (oh…that could be a t-shirt)
Not too long ago, at one of our Annual Level 7 Roundtables, a client asked me about the key activities of a Level 7 Business. I gave it some thought, did some research and concluded that there are 10 Absolutely Essential Activities Business Must Do to Become Great.
Here they are:
1- Get Your People Fired Up and Enthusiastically Engaged. Great businesses engage in consistent, intentional and varied leadership directed communication with the purpose of creating an enthusiastic collective focus with the people in the organization. Through these communication forums, leadership communicates goals, vision and values in a way to will inspire and get people bought in an on-board with the direction of the business.
2- Pay Attention and Listen. Great businesses expecting people to take an interest in the vision, goals and values of the organization, must demonstrate an interest in the concerns, ideas, frustrations and issues of their employees. These forums, or one on one meetings, with individuals are not intended for mentoring, performance reviews or providing team members direction, they are simply to listen to their people and appropriately respond. Most Level 7 Business conduct 15-20 minute One on One Meetings once per month. Calvin Cummings of Valbridge Property Advisors in Los Angeles, California suggested that implementing One on One Meetings in his business was one of the most important and valuable things he has done for the health, employee satisfaction, engagement and growth of his business.
3- Review Your Systemization Report once a week. Great businesses are systems driven. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what it means to be a systems driven business however. Some people believe that once they have a set of written and documented systems in a three-ringed binder on a bookshelf means they have systemized their business. Or they think that just because they have identified some process or workflow in an area of their business, even though it’s in their people’s heads, they have a systemized business. Well not to burst anyone’s bubble, but this is not systemized or systems driven. Read more about becoming systemize driven here.
Essentially being systems driven means your business has effectively orchestrated the process of documentation, testing, training and implementing your systems. In other words, creating great, high performing, results focused processes that your people are actually USING. Once you’ve done that, your business will be then be engaged in the process of evaluating and innovating your systems to continually make your systems better. The cycle repeats and your business continues to improve.
The Systemization Report is your reference to the current status of every system in your business as it relates to the systems development cycle. The Systemization Report serves as the catalyst that keeps the process of developing, implementing and innovating your systems.
4- A Commitment Standard is in place. If you have a systems driven business, you can trust and have confidence that your business will perform. Why? Because great systems produce great results. However, most systems are operated by people and, as such, you much trust your people to operate the systems according to the way they have been written and developed. If they don’t, then you will not get the results you are expecting or counting on.
A Commitment Standard simply clarifies the company’s expectations when it comes to commitments and follow-through. It establishes an environment of trust between management and staff and employee to employee. Although we assume people will consistently keep all their promises, things frequently slip through the cracks, people don’t always do what they say they are going to do.
This impacting results and business performance. The details matter. And one small slip can cost a company dearly. But the fact is people don’t always complete tasks on time or do things the way they are supposed to be done but it rarely addressed.
The Commitment Standard provides clarity of expectations when it comes to accountability and follow-though.
5- Stop Firefighting and Solve and Eliminate Your Problems Well. Most business owners are effective at solving problems. We are great firefighters. But to build a great business, we need to permanently eliminate reoccurring problems and frustrations. We need a systematic and effective approach to identifying the core source of the problem and in a step by step manner eliminate it. The Level 7 Problem Resolution System is a tool that our clients and their employees regularly use to deal with frustrations and challenges. Not only does it give the business owner and effective approach to solving problems and frustrations but it helps employees to effectively resolve problems too.
6- Monitor and Report Your Employee Performance. Great businesses have clearly defined, objective and measurable goals and expectations for each employee in their organization. These goals are communicated and reported to each team member on a monthly basis. Great businesses are on the same page with their people. When people are meeting or exceeding expectations they get high fives and acknowledgement. For those that are falling short; time and energy is invested to help them improve performance so they can start succeeding. If your people are succeeding across the board, your business is succeeding.
7- Be the Conductor and Orchestrate Correct Behavior. Great businesses understand that we must get things done. If it doesn’t need to be done, then eliminate it. We create Work Prioritizers. Work Prioritizers are essentially check or task list of reoccurring activities your employees are responsible for doing. This is not micromanagement just in case that thought went through your mind. It’s actually empowerment. You are setting your people up to succeed by providing them a resource that keeps them on track. Sales people are reminded to make 5 outbound calls per day. Bookkeepers are reminded to generate month-end reports by the 5th of the month. Front desk people are reminded to purge old files every month. Managers are reminded to review their Systemization Report weekly and take appropriate business improvement action as required.
8- Don’t Take Any Chances and Thread Your Culture. Great businesses are intentional about their culture. Threading or embedding a set of values in an organization requires a lot more than posting a list of values on a wall someplace on your premises. A well-crafted and threaded culture differentiates an organization among its employees and consumers. Level 7 Businesses employ a wide variety of strategies to establish and maintain a powerful and compelling culture. The most notable and effective is to create a Culture Development Team.
Having a Culture Development Team that meets regularly to develop strategies to communicate and engage people in the culture transfers the ownership of threading the culture to employees.
9- Know Your Numbers. I’m not talking about the occasional monthly P&L you might be getting. I am suggesting a set of key indicators that monitor performance for each department and area throughout the business. You could be looking at client acquisition numbers, lead conversion performance, closing ratios, employee productivity, brand development, quality control, client retention etc. The numbers for each business is unique to each business. Getting the numbers however is not enough. It also requires a clear and specific approach to responding when an area of the business is falling short.
10- Get Your Best Minds Together. Innovation is vital to any growing enterprise. Great businesses engage their key people in the business to participate in specific forums designed to initiate and encourage improvement in areas of concern in the business. The Level 7 Brainbank Process brings people together, they look at areas or systems that require improvement and then discuss and implement changes to their current systems to improve the business performance. Innovation and improvement goes from random and haphazard and business owner dependent to systematic, intentional, purposeful and engaging that includes people within the organization.
Once a business effectively and consistent engages in these key activities, they will see and experience massive improvement in all the areas of performance, revenue, profitability, capacity to scale and replicate, employee morale and customer satisfaction while improving your quality of life and connection to your organization.
Want to discuss or evaluate where you might be or how we can help you implement these 10 Critical Activities? Let chat. Click here to check out times and availability for a 30 Minute Evaluation, Assessment and Recommendation Call.
One of our good friends has a 2 ½ year old daughter. She, like most other 2 year olds, can be a bit of a pill at times. That’s a polite way of saying, “She’s can be a pain in the butt.”
She will go on and on about something, kicking and screaming over the most seemingly insignificant things. At least to us. Her parents would jokingly declare, “The struggle is real.”
We laugh about it. It’s funny when we put it in perspective.
When it comes to business, the struggle is real too. But it’s no laughing matter.
Owning a business is tough. It’s hard. It can be a massive pill (see reference above).
And because it is tough I am going to say something I have never openly said before.
Business ownership and entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Not everyone should be a business owner. Many people need to give up their fantasy with the idea of entrepreneurship. Keep your dreams to yourself. Just dream.
There, I said it.
I suspect this statement won’t be popular.
Well, I’m not trying to win a popularity contest folks. I’m not going to be politically correct. Maybe I’m having a Donald Trump moment. I am going to just tell the truth. (I think people in our country are starving for truth and transparency).
Yes. The struggle is real. And you know it if you’ve been in business for more than 10 minutes. I’ve experienced it and I suspect you have too.
Nope there is no easy button.
Yes, the struggle is real. But that’s what makes it great.
Being an entrepreneur or business owner that builds a business that stands out and is truly great is one of life’s greatest challenges. It’s the challenge; the struggle that makes it good.
You see, every day we have the opportunity to overcome. We have the opportunity to be challenged. We have the opportunity to learn and grow. In fact it’s required. Because if we don’t we will die or get killed.
There is a line in the movie League of Their Own. Tom Hanks, referring to baseball, said, “It’s the hard that makes it good.”
In business, it’s the hard that makes it good. We have the opportunity to discover WHO we really are. We have to opportunity to see what we are really made of. And, if we respond to the challenge and fight, we get to see WHO we will ultimately become.
And who you will become is a better, stronger, more determined, courageous, disciplined and wiser person who can overcome and survive anything life throws at you.
The struggle is real. Embrace it.
I’ve got your back.