22 years ago, I was on the forefront of an important conversation that was emerging within the business world. Specifically, it was a recognition that having systems was critical to building an effective business operation. And thus, the systems revolution, started.
Back then, people loved the notion and idea of ‘having systems’. But ‘having systems’ is not the answer.
Even today, most people lack understanding what ‘having systems’ in their business really means. I recall a conversation with a business owner who was proud of the fact that they had documented systems in their business and proudly pointed to them, dusty and unused in three-ringed binders, on his shelf in his office.
Tonya, a Certified Level 7 Implementation Specialists, once commented that you hear people talking about systems at conferences, workshops, Zoom calls, webcasts and anywhere people are talking about business, but the fact is there’s a vast amount of confusion of what it is to ‘have systems’ in the business.
And even more disconcerting is the fact that businesses struggle with how to do it effectively that will have positive impact on the business.
We want them, systems, because we believe they will make a difference, and they will, but we just don’t know how to do it effectively. That is where the tension exists!
Thinking that ‘having systems’ is the solution is the very reason why systems don’t really work.
Regardless, an effort is made and, in the best case scenarios, fall short of expectations because ‘having systems’ is vastly different than being Systems-Driven.
The Level 7 System is all about is creating a Systems-Driven Business which is vastly different than just having systems in your business.
Having a Systems-Driven business means that you have adopted the idea that the key to success in your business is dependent on the quality of your systems and, if you want to improve your business, you must improve your systems.
Let’s take a moment to discuss the second part of that quote. Specifically, if you want to improve your business, you must improve your systems. Having a systems-driven business creates an environment where you have quality, results producing documented systems that are used daily in the business. It also means that if something isn’t working, or you wish to improve something in your business, your company knows how to actively engage in improving the systems. This is the beginning of being a Systems-Driven business.
Having a Systems-Driven Business becomes THE WAY of doing business that gets results and ensures that your entire team is on the same page an actively supporting the process of building an extraordinary operation.
Here are some of the critical elements necessary to becoming a Systems-Driven Business.
1- Installing the Systems Development Cycle is a fundamental part of the process. The Systems Development Cycle supports the reoccurring cycle of activity from the initial documentation of the systems, their periodic review or evaluation and the eventual innovation of the system when an improvement is required or beneficial.
2- Systems have a clearly defined results statement.
3- Systems performance must be measurable.
4- Every system must have accountable operators that actually use the system.
5- Innovation and improvement of systems must be organized and appropriate in their timing. No interrupt innovation allowed.
6- Systems must be housed in an easy to locate and accessible place. People need to be able to find them.
When seeking to build a business that solves the problems that most business experience while fostering a high-growth and stable environment that provides certainty of sustainable, having documented systems is simply not enough. Building a Systems-Driven Business is the way to creating certainty of continual improvement in their business.
Interested in exploring how you can become a System-Driven Business? Click Here to schedule a 30-Minute Strategic Session to determine if your business is a good fit to become Systems-Driven.
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.
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.
Rob (not his real name), asked me to help him develop his sales systems and train his sales people. He was stuck and simply couldn’t break past his sales ceiling. Revenue had hit a plateau.
I was pretty confident I could help him and the business. But I was concerned.
A business is an interconnected or interdependent organism. I was worried that we would encounter issues unrelated to the sales department, and their current systems, that were impacting the sales.
He assured me that if we encountered a problem, he would resolve it.
The company at the time had three sales people. Between the three of them they were generating about 2.1 million in sales per year.
I began to ask some questions to determine how the guys were spending their time.
Lesson #1 – We have to know if we are doing the right work.
As we drilled down to discover the truth, I uncovered that the sales people were spending about 25% of their time doing work totally unrelated to sales.
Specifically, they were driving around delivering printing to their customers. (The company was a commercial printer. That is real).
I inquired, “Don’t you have a delivery driver who does that for you guys?”
“Yup!” They replied.
“I don’t understand. Why are you guys spending your time doing $10.00 per hour work?” I asked.
The room was silent for a moment. They sales reps looked at each other assessing who was going to spill the beans.
Finally, Don (not his real name) spoke up. “Um…he’s terrible. He is rude to the clients. Very unprofessional. He doesn’t even bother making sure the printing gets to the right person or department. He has been know to literally walk in the door and drop the stuff off and just leave.”
Don (still not his real name) continued. “We’ve talked to the Rob (still not his real name either) and he hasn’t really done anything with it.”
At that point I clarified and confirmed that they simply don’t have the time to follow-up on new prospects because they are too busy.
They were too busy doing $10.00 an hour work and wasting 25% of their time doing it.
Do the math. That equates to approximately $750,000 in lost potential annual revenue.
Lesson #2 – One poor performing employee could be costing a company thousands of dollars per year.
Lesson #3 – Our job as business owners and managers is to create an environment where EVERYONE is performing at the highest possible level. Rob obviously didn’t know how to do it. I had to show him (that is true).
Do you really know how to do create an environment where your people are performing at exceptional levels?