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By BRADLEY J. SUGARS
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Bradley J. Sugars
All rights reserved.
How to Identify Areas to Systemize
Before you begin doing anything to your business, particularly if what you have in mind is going to have a profound effect on the business, it's vital that you begin with a very clear picture of the status quo before you start.
It's much like altering the settings of your computer. It's great fun trying various settings and preferences, but unless you know what you're doing, you could end up going along a course or in a direction you don't want. Things might not work out as you'd planned. So what do you do? Well, with computers, you have a fallback position. You can always revert to the default setting. You can switch everything back to how it was before you started tampering.
That's a great feature, I can tell you, because it's saved many people from absolute chaos.
The situation can be exactly the same in business. You can change things as much as you like, but unless you have a detailed idea of what your business was like before you started implementing changes, you can never revert to how it was before. That's largely because new strategies tend to take time to implement, test, measure, and evaluate. Members of your team subjected to those changes obviously get intimately involved with the new directions their jobs take, and after a while, will tend to forget exactly how they went about their tasks previously. They are usually unable to revert to their previous situation should they be asked to.
Don't rely on the members of your team to reset your business. It's not their job to do so and it's unfair asking them to. You are the responsible person, after all, so that task falls into your lap.
So, how would you go about it?
The very first thing you need to do is to establish your default position. You need to establish exactly what your business is like before you begin doing anything. You need, in effect, a snapshot of your organization as it is right now.
Draw an Organogram
This is how you can develop an organogram, or a chart of your organization:
Start with the head of the business, which presumably is you. Put the name of your position down at the top of the chart and in the center. Draw a box around it. This is the top layer in your organization.
Next write down the names of the positions that report to you. Draw a box around each of them and connect them to your box by means of straight lines. This is the second layer in your organization.
Write down the names of all the positions that report to the positions that occupy the second layer. Draw boxes around them and connect them with straight lines, known as reporting lines, to their respective second-layer positions.
Carry on in this fashion until you have your entire organization mapped out.
This is how it should look:
Now that you have drawn up an organizational chart of your business, the next thing you need to do is to develop a flowchart for each functional area or department in your business. This chart will describe in detail and with accuracy exactly what happens in each area. Think of it this way: It charts the path work takes through that department.
Here's what you do:
Take one functional area at a time and work your way through it before tackling the next area, then the next, until they have all been documented.
Start at the first point of contact with your customer for goods or service.
Document the flow of the job as it passes through the functional area, from start to finish, or until it passes through to the next functional area.
Draw boxes around each function, and then join them up with straight lines.
As an example, let's start with the sales function in the diagram below.
Involve Your Entire Team
It is extremely important to explain to all team members exactly what you'll be doing, why, and what the expected outcome will be before you begin documenting or observing what they do. The last thing you want is for them to become suspicious—the grapevine will spring into action and your intentions could backfire badly. Explain that it's not a witch-hunt, that you're not looking for excuses to do away with them or their jobs, and that you're not aiming to consolidate various positions, making some of them redundant.
You really do need to ensure that you get all team members aboard for an exercise like this, as they can be of enormous assistance, and if you don't, you could end up with a big problem on your hands. So consult widely and honestly. Involve them in every step of the exercise. Communicate genuinely and hide nothing. Let them know what your intended outcome is: Making the business run smoother, more profitably and efficiently, with major benefits for them, their workload, and their level of job satisfaction.
Get this aspect right and it can turn into a major team-building exercise with huge benefits as far as team morale is concerned. If you involve all your team members from the very beginning, they will buy into and take ownership of the exercise. Your job will become very much easier, the end result will be much more effective, and the final outcome will exceed your wildest expectations.
Document What Each Team Member Does
Now that you know exactly how work flows through each of your functional areas, the next thing you need to understand, and document, is exactly what happens at each point as it makes its way through this area to the next. What we are interested in is exactly what each person working in this area does on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
This is a fairly detailed task and one that could take a fair amount of time to complete. But it is absolutely necessary that you don't cut corners, take shortcuts, or leave things out. The object here is to gain a clear and accurate picture of what happens in your organization. This has three main purposes:
It provides you with your default position.
It gives you accurate data from which to produce your system.
It provides information to allow you to streamline the operation, making each position more efficient.
There are various methods you could use to achieve this. They include the following:
Interview team members.
Ask team members to write a detailed report of what they do.
Observe team members.
Video team members.
Record on audiotape details of what the team members do.
Once you have produced a detailed description of what each and every team member does, tidy it up and edit the copy so that it reads well. Then get the team members concerned to review what you have written in order to give you their approval or suggest corrections so that the end result is an accurate reflection of what happens in their areas of responsibility at that time.
Remember, don't jump ahead here and start changing what they do because you have uncovered more efficient or cost-effective ways of doing things through this task audit. That's not the purpose. You see, you are interested in getting a detailed map of how things run in your business at the moment. You are busy compiling your default position that will allow you to instantly revert to the status quo if new methods or ways of doing things don't prove to be better than what was done before.
And you can't guess or assume anything here. Everything will be thoroughly tested and measured to ensure that it works as intended. But if it doesn't, then at least you have a safety measure up your sleeve.
Run through this exercise with everyone in that functional area or department, and then do the same for the next functional area, and then the next, until you have worked your way through your entire organization. Collate the documents together, and the end result is a detailed snapshot of what goes on workwise in your organization. You could think of it as a comprehensive operations manual. File it in a folder and put it to one side for the moment.
It is important to bear in mind that what you are aiming for is something quite different than a set of job descriptions or Key Performance Indicators. Resist the temptation to take a shortcut by simply using people's job descriptions. What people actually do in a job and what they are supposed to do is usually quite different. Furthermore, we are aiming at compiling a detailed account of what happens every day, week, or month, and not what tasks need to be looked after. Get the difference?
This is important because when it comes to writing the systems, you will be concerned with finding out what is working and what isn't in every job in your business. You will be looking for better, more efficient, and cost-effective ways of conducting your business, with benefits in everything from customer satisfaction to team satisfaction, and from increases in profit to a more efficient business operation. Job descriptions can't help you achieve this.
How to Develop and Write the Systems
Once you have a complete and detailed description of what your team members do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, your next task will be to test and measure what they are doing to see if it is producing the required results.
Now's the time to compare these activity schedules with their respective job descriptions and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). The aim here is not to catch people or to go about pushing them to work harder in a sneaky way; it's about finding better ways of doing things.
The Japanese have a great word for this. They call it Kaizen, and it means constant and never-ending improvement. Think of your quest for improvement as a circle; it has no beginning and no end. It is a never-ending quest. You just keep getting better all the time. When you have reached your goal as far as improvement is concerned, then raise the bar a little and try again. When you reach that level, raise the bar again and improve some more.
Test each job one at a time. Start by comparing what is actually done with the KPIs. Are the KPIs being achieved? Are they all being achieved on time, or only some of them? What are the reasons for this? Can steps be put in place to correct this?
Once you have ascertained how each job scored, you need to involve your team members. Get them to do the following:
List their top 10 time-consuming tasks.
List their top 10 stressful tasks.
List their top 10 productivity-related tasks.
List their top 10 tasks that bring them the most happiness.
Now, how can you accommodate the above four lists in their daily, weekly, or monthly routines? Can you streamline, adapt, amend, correct, or include something new here? Ask your team members to think about any bottlenecks they are aware of. Get them to list the three that they believe are causing the greatest problems to customers or to your bottom line. You'd be surprised what your team members actually know about your operation—they do, after all, work closely with it day in and day out. Work at eliminating these problems one at a time. Then have a look at making absolutely sure the team members' 40 points are taken into account. You see, not only will you be taking their concerns on board, you'll be seen as doing something positive to address some of the major job-related issues facing them. Having satisfied or content team members means that your business will operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. There will be a real sense of purpose and pride, and your customers will pick this up.
Now it's time to rewrite, with the assistance of each team member, the daily, weekly, and monthly task descriptions. Alter the job descriptions and KPIs accordingly. Monitor how they are performing and coping for a month, then test and measure the work descriptions against the KPIs once more. You should see a huge difference in performance levels, job satisfaction, and results.
If the new job functions are performing according to plan, then consolidate at this new level for the next 12 months. Let things settle so they become standard procedure.
Do the same for all the other positions in your organization, then bind all the resultant documents together, sorted by functional area or department, and the result will be a complete systems manual for your business.
So, how do you go about actually writing the systems manual? It's not as daunting as you'd imagine. Here are some considerations:
Start with the work flow descriptions.
Use bullet points and concise headings.
Start with the first, or most important, or regular task.
Itemize each action that is needed to handle or complete each function, and write briefly what needs to be done.
Mention what the desired outcome is, and what happens next.
Don't forget to mention what happens if things go wrong or if another action is called for.
As an example, let's refer back to our sales department and write up the system for handling telephone orders.
This is what it could look like:
Handling Incoming Telephone Orders
When the telephone rings, the Sales Cadet will answer it after three rings.
Say, "Good morning. Thanks for calling Mumbo Jumbo; this is James. How can I help you?"
When the caller says that she wants to place an order, say, "Certainly; would you mind if I run through a couple of questions to ensure that I get the details of what you want to order?"
Reading from the sales script, which is written on the sales order form, obtain details of the order, the delivery address, and the method of payment.
Confirm the details with the customer by reading back the details to her.
Thank the customer for the order and hang up.
Make a copy of the completed order form.
Send the original to the dispatch department and file the copy in your orders file.
Write up a sales invoice, with three copies.
E-mail one copy to Finance, one to the Admin Manager, and one to the Sales Manager.
Then do the same for each and every function within your organization, collate all the descriptions according to functional areas or department, file them, and produce a cover page with a suitable title, such as Sales Department Systems.
The Four Key Areas to Systemize
Now you have a basic set of systems in place and you're reasonably happy that they are working. The next step is concentrating on writing or developing systems that affect the business as a whole and will put your business well and truly on the fast track to operating smoothly and efficiently all day long.
We are no longer focusing on writing systems at the job level, but higher up at the corporate level. These will be company systems that will govern how the business in its entirety operates.
When viewing any business from a corporate perspective, there are four key areas that encompass every other system that you have in place. You see, there are some that will be common across the board, so rather than duplicating them over and over again for all your different functional areas, these systems are grouped together under the corporate portfolio.
So what are these four key areas of the business? They are:
1. People and Education.
2. Delivery and Distribution.
3. Testing and Measuring.
4. Systems and Technology.
By concentrating on writing systems for these broad areas, you'll be putting in place ways to make your business work more efficiently and effectively.
Let's look at them now one by one and in some detail.
People and Education
Ever heard of the saying, "People are a company's best asset?" I'm sure you have. And it's true. But when we're talking about systems for people, I believe we also need to include education. People need to have their skills updated from time to time to remain relevant to your business. Now I know this sounds a bit cold and impersonal and I don't mean it to, but the fact remains that people, like any other business tool, system, or asset, need updating or they'll depreciate, and that's something we don't want.
Looking after the well-being and welfare of your team members will not only make them feel relevant, wanted, and of value, it'll also help them feel competent and comfortable with their work. Content team members are productive team members, and this means a business that will function smoothly and profitably.
What systems could you implement to achieve this? Here are a lot for you to consider.
Run an Ongoing Training System
Keep your people growing and moving forward; it's the best way to ensure that they keep the company growing.
Your people really are your best asset. And here's another business truism: If you aren't going forward, you're going backwards. There is no middle ground. The same is true for people in this information age. It's all about knowledge. Empower the people who work for you with knowledge. It will pay you handsome dividends.
Don't worry that you might spend time and money training them to the point where they become attractive to your opposition. Sure, you might lose a few, but think of the consequences. I'd rather lose one or two people than my business, because that's what will happen if your team stagnates.
Excerpted from INSTANT SYSTEMS by BRADLEY J. SUGARS. Copyright © 2006 by Bradley J. Sugars. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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