Recently I’ve been working with several private clients who are in a growth phase and finding that they’ve outgrown or outpaced their previous systems. While this is great news (the business is growing, more clients to serve!) it also creates discomfort when the company tries to use procedures that no longer work.
Before we get into the action steps when you outgrow your systems, how do you identify systems are no longer working?
Skipping Systems: It’s easy to skip over the systems that once served when you feel that you know everything or things are changing too rapidly to document. After all, when you have 100 customer service requests getting stale now is not the time to write templates right? Well, wrong. Often taking a step back to review your system can save you a lot of headaches but it’s human nature to keep playing catch up instead of taking action to document and implement the changes company-wide.
Documentation is Dead: When things are slow you have all the time you need to document proper procedures, customer service and systems. But when things speed up one of the first things to fall away is documenting what’s going on in the business, with clients and vendors and team members. You may correct this by bringing in more team to handle the workflow which leads to our final problem.
Personnel Problems: Typically right after hiring new team members you’ll find problems that did not exist before. Whether that shows up as billing constraints, team members taking vacation simultaneously or someone who didn’t get an email account, you’ll find yourself addressing more personnel concerns. And while the workload may increase, the systems should be able to handle the influx of new workers whether it’s two people or twenty.
If you’re seeing these problems in your business and trying to keep on top of all the changes, keep in mind that this obsolescence is natural. Just like your marketing, offers, advertisements, employee retention efforts, safety procedures, pricing options and products what worked five years ago will not work today. And business is speeding up and things shift much more quickly. The great news is that if you recognize the signs and take action you’ll outpace your competitors who are content to sit back and assume it’s all okay.
Here are four action steps you can take to update your systems and establish a new baseline of operations.
1. Create space for System Recreation. Just as I recommend for businesses working without systems, your business is stepping into a new stage and you’ve got to devote time to making systems work for you. Start by setting aside time on your business development day or spending a few hours each weekend reviewing and updating systems that are breaking down.
2. Bring in Veteran Team Members. Often those at the front lines are seeing the problems but too busy putting out fires to work with you. Schedule time to get a sense of the problems in the areas most affected by growth and asking for solutions from your team members.
3. Remember that Systems are Meant to Change. You’ve got to think of your system and structures as a living thing. Just like raising a child what works for an infant would not be appropriate for an adolescent. This applies to the software you’re using, your support team, financial practices, team policies… so many areas. Instead of getting frustrated that the system you took time creating is no longer useful, focus your attention on giving your business the resources it needs at this level.
4. Bring in Help. One of the great things about growth is that was once a luxury is now pretty much a necessity unless you decide to contract your growth and stay small. Again the child analogy works well here: you used to babysit your business, checking over every inch to make sure it was all okay. There’s a bit of paranoia when it comes to your business and while it’s hard you’ll need to trust others if you want your business to grow. So look to bring in specialists like an accountant or bookkeeper who can build systems for your company that reflect the needs you have. Or, a business lawyer who can revise and review contracts to ensure you’re in compliance and covering your assets.
Even if you’re just beginning to look at your systems I advise that all businesses take time twice a year to look over their systems and see what’s no longer working. Personally I time these during the Daylight Savings days when my sleep schedule is already out of whack and I can squeeze in some extra time to look at my business and make changes to reflect where I am going next.