What is business systemization?
A common misconception about business systemization
is that it’s all about control.
This isn’t the case at all; systematizing your business isn’t the same as restricting and monitoring the activities of each staff member to manage and script every moment of their time.
In short, when you systemize your business, you’re creating a model for that business.
The idea of this model is that you work on it, rather than in it. This type of systemization aims to create better efficiency and quality of service for both your clients and your employees, and to allow you to easily scale or refine your plan, depending on your business strategy at the time.
When you’re running a systemized business, you’ll be able to dedicate your time to working on the way the business operates, rather than being a critical part of it doing so. This helps you increase efficiency and simplify project management.
Systemizing your business essentially involves defining how your business systems should run, as a collection of processes or SOPs (standard operating procedures).
Processes exist in every business, whether formally defined or occurring by accident, as a sequence of actions with an input and an output. If they are not defined, then they cannot be followed consistently, and output is inconsistent.
Inconsistency is the enemy of an efficient business – it costs time and money.
It means employees don’t know what to do, customers don’t know what they’ll receive, and the owner? They have a business they simply can’t manage.
What triggers a need to systemize your business?
There can be many reasons why you might be looking at how you can improve the operations of your business, but often there are key trigger points that make a good time to develop your systemization strategy;
You need investment or are looking to exit
Behind business finances, how defined your business operations are is the #2 consideration when valuing your business. Investors will ask “How ready is this business to grow?” while acquirers need to know “How well can we run this business without the existing leadership?”.
You’re hiring a new position
This means activity is being delegated from you, or a member of your team, to a new position. It may also mean this person is performing new activity. In either case, to make this position successful you need to define what they will be actually doing and give them the knowledge and tools to do it.
You’re expanding a team
As a team expands, it is critical the workload is managed effectively and efficiently. New hires will be more effective if their role is defined from day one, with processes and procedures available with enough information for them to know exactly what they need to do and minimise repeat training. You may find as you systemize you need fewer hires, as teams become more efficient.
Business is growing
Your business is growing, often because it is delivering a high standard of service. However, that increased workload can erode the quality of that service, and to maintain it as your business grows should be a number one concern. Systemizing ahead of time is the best way to ensure this.
You’re outsourcing part of your business
It is a common business strategy to outsource elements of your business, either because it is non-core (finance, HR or marketing for example) or because it is specialized (manufacture, logistics). If your expectations of that service and how it will be managed on an ongoing basis are not clearly defined it is hard to achieve the ROI that you expect from doing so.
You, personally, need more freedom
Business owners are critical to the success of a business, but often find themselves embroiled in the daily operations, working excessive hours and not finding time to improve their work/life balance, or consider overall strategy. The only way to change this is through systemization.
Why is it important to systemize your business?
Systemizing your business comes with several benefits.
Firstly, a systemized business regulates daily operations and activities, which goes a long way to promoting day-to-day consistency. This is important because inconsistent activity creates errors. These errors make it impossible to run an efficient, streamlined business.
When you systemize your business’ daily tasks, you also ensure that your team members always have templates for the work they’re doing. That means that your employees will get it right, every time – building confidence and trust.
Another benefit is that systemization paves the way for automation. This is because it makes it clear whether a repetitive business process or workflow will need to be repeated identically, many times over – a sure sign that that process or workflow can be automated. Automation also leaves your employees with more time to spend on the things that count.
How does systemization change your business?
The process of systemization affects six business-critical functions, which evolve as a result of that process. We’re going to look at each of these six functions in detail.
1. Onboarding and training procedure
New employees start out motivated, and it’s up to your onboarding program to keep them that way. In fact, when your new hires enjoy their onboarding experience, they’re more likely to stay with your company and perform better.
New hires want to be effective quickly – and you want the same. After all, that’s how you can get the most out of your investment in new staff.
To make this happen, you’ll want to create a systemized onboarding process.
Without systemization, onboarding is often basic and stops the day the new employees start work, with managers providing bits of knowledge as they progress.
With systemization, however, onboarding becomes a continuous process that keeps going until they’re completely effective. It’s got measures in place to ensure any resource invested achieves maximum results in delivering a happy, motivated and effective team member.
2. Project management
Project management can get repetitive at a high level. In practice, however, it varies by project manager, client expectations and business deliverables.
Before systemization, this creates unnecessary variance and inconsistency, resulting in higher costs, longer project lead times, and client expectations not being met – meaning unhappy clients!
After systemization, this changes.
Systemized projects are managed in a repeatable, measured way that ensures costs are known, expectations can be clearly set from the beginning, and any issues are dealt with swiftly. This reduces overall cost and increases the output of your project teams.
3. Processes and workflows
Where a business has documented their process, frequently this is to a virtual filing cabinet that is rarely consulted and only when a major issue occurs or an audit is due. Worse yet, many of the workflows from these processes live on paper, spreadsheets or in people’s heads.
This hidden activity is inherently inconsistent, hard to measure and impossible to improve. That’s why systemizing (and thereby integrating) workflows is becoming increasingly popular:
Systemizing a business means embedding process and workflow, so they work in partnership and evolve a business that has self-improvement and efficiency at its core. The process of documenting workflows can also be integrated, allowing for easy tracking and analysis.
4. Internal communication
Typically, when a business has not fully designed how it should operate, or decided on team and role functions, internal communication becomes inconsistent. Inter-departmental communication may be low, until an issue occurs in which case it can become very high. These peaks and troughs hugely impact the efficiency of your business/
When this is the case, there’s generally a high level of unnecessary emails and meetings discussing challenges, without the corrective changes becoming embedded. This causes high levels of employee stress and disengagement from the business mission.
Part of systemization is not just defining now, but how to incorporate future change and development, and ensuring that employees are part of that journey. This should engage and motivate more than any salary increase.
5. Customer relationships
Customers expect to receive the service or product they have purchased. If the definition of that product or how it will be delivered is unclear, it is impossible for the expectations of the customer and business to exactly align, creating challenges from the outset.
Before systemization, managing customers and ensuring their satisfaction can incur high costs. That’s because simply increasing employee numbers or support availability is thought to create improvements.
However, a far more efficient method of customer success can be achieved by defining and managing customer expectations throughout the entire lifecycle of the customer. From customer onboarding to account reviews, customer offboarding to complaint procedures. Once defined, you can more easily systematize CRM (customer relationship management), or implement tools to manage consistent project delivery.
6. Accounting and finance
Cash flow is the lifeblood of a business, without which growth falters.
Any business must ensure that:
- Customers pay in the correct time frame
- Accounts are accurate and accessible
- Business functions perform to budget
- Data is available to support decision making.
All of these finance operations are critical to the clockwork running of a business. And all of them can be automated, once your financial processes have been systemized.
Benefits of systemizing your business
The more systematized your business is, the less guesswork is involved in running it. This brings about benefits in virtually every aspect of your business.
For starters, it makes it much simpler for your teams to run on autopilot. As business owners, you might be tempted to micromanage your teams’ productivity, but systemization can take care of this for you and let you focus your efforts on other tasks (such as delegating who will be working on which projects, for example).
As we discussed earlier, systemization also makes automation easier to implement. This means you can ensure repetitive workflows get completed quickly and efficiently.
Another benefit of systemizing your business is that managing marketing campaigns becomes a lot easier, since every detail is documented. This means you’ll have an easier time with lead generation, thanks to a unified campaign across all your social media platforms.
Why systemizing your business isn’t about control, but about trust
Process is like marmite – you either love it, or you hate it.
There are those that love the order it brings and embrace how it helps them do their job. However, there are also those who don’t see the value, or think it’s too restrictive. However, process isn’t about control – it’s about being able to let go.
As a business owner or senior manager, if you haven’t let go and built trust with your team, then the opposite, equally damaging symptom is probably occurring: micro-management and burnt out, demotivated employees.
The question you need to ask yourself and your leadership team is, are you able to let go… and if not, why not?
Letting go, trusting process: a long-form example
To put that question into perspective, let’s consider a situation where a CEO is frustrated with the growth and operations of their business, but doesn’t see that process is the route to improving the situation. They feel their teams are making too many mistakes, and that things are happening too slowly for anything to progress.
The CEO cares deeply about their business, the service their customer receives, and that everything happens as it should. At the same time, they’re worn out when it comes to business – working long hours, wrangling the business, trying hard just to make things happen.
As it turns out, the CEO feels they’ve got to take care of everything to make sure things are actually happening. They feel as though they’re the only one who cares about things happening properly, and as though everything falls apart the moment they look away.
When they’re asked why they feel that way, they say that their employees aren’t doing what they need to. That means the CEO has to do everything, or it will be done wrong, and then the business will be in hot water.
However, they recognize that their employees aren’t trying to do a bad job. Their employees are capable, in fact, and have the necessary skills to succeed.
“What could you do to help them get it right? What is missing?” the CEO asks themself. After considering options, they see the answer: process.
If their employees followed the process, they would get things right, the CEO realizes. In fact, they may ever do it better than the CEO can.
Then the CEO realizes that process would allow them to trust their employees and let go. That’s because they’ve identified what needs to be done, and they know how to do it.
With process, they now know that they can let go and trust their staff. Now there’s a relationship of trust, employees are in a better position to evolve and improve the processes and procedures to help them operate even more effectively.
That means less stress for them, less pressure for their employees, and a more effective business.
9 steps to systemize your business the simple way
1. Identify 1-3 processes to tackle
You’ll want to choose recurring tasks that are important to your business, but that frustrate you because they could be done much better. These tasks should be complicated – a multi step process is ideal. They should also involve multiple people and departments working together.
The reason why you should start with just a few processes at once is because it’s important to see results quickly. If you start off with too many at once, you’ll get bogged down before you get to see those benefits.
Start small, and pick just a handful of processes – trying to do everything at once will make it hard to show value.
Areas to consider;
- Important workflow that is currently managed by spreadsheet, email or in people’s heads
- Processes that will support a new hire you are starting
- Process that will improve the standard of service you offer to clients
- An area that is causing frustration or not performing as expected
2. Capture how things work
Note down how a set process happens, superficially speaking; you can define and refine the details over time.
Don’t try to redesign anything at this stage, either. It might feel like you’re locking down a process that’s never going to change, but the truth is quite the opposite: you can make as many tweaks and adjustments later on in the process as you like.
Better yet, the processes are going to evolve thanks to your intervention.
3. Make it collaborative
Of course, beSlick is software that’s been specially designed to help you at this stage. That shouldn’t stop you from starting out with a spreadsheet or collaborative sheet in Google Docs, though.
All you need to do is create a tab for each process and get everyone involved to provide input, writing out what they do and where they fit in. There’s no need for complex diagrams. A list of the ideal is best, and involving the doers of process ensures that things stay accurate.
4. Closely define the remit of outsiders
If you involve external process consultants, you will likely find they may devote a large portion of their time – and yours – to drawing amazing diagrams that nobody actually looks at.
That’s why it’s far better to work with something practical, such as a checklist that everyone can use. Simply draw up a column of activities, perhaps with a responsibility for each column, as well as a description. If there is supporting information, include a link.
5. Embed them in your business
Whether you’re using specific software or spreadsheets, the next thing you need is a means for people to confirm that they’ve performed the activities required by their part of the process.
By doing this, you’re connecting the documentation to the activities performed. You’ll be able to keep all documentation up-to-date that way.
If you’ve set out the process in a collaborative space, it’s easy to see people’s responsibilities. Don’t worry about permissions and protection – encourage people to work together and collaborate. If you need controls over the process, that’s where software can start to play a part.
6. Introduce a feedback loop
Feedback lets us improve.
Anytime you run the process, add another column for feedback that lets people comment on every current step. This feedback loop motivates staff, and promotes positive change.
Staff like to work in a way that is simple and easy, and will help you evolve how these processes work to achieve that goal. Discussions over why something is done in a particular way will happen, with the outcome of either understanding or change – both positive outcomes.
7. Once it’s working, extend it
Once you’ve bought into the approach, and it’s delivering value, should you extend it.
Extending it is a matter of identifying further processes and departments, then gradually rolling the approach out where it makes most sense.
If you decide to do this, one spreadsheet will be too complex. You could have a spreadsheet per department, although where processes cross departments, this may become difficult to manage.
8. Consider software
This is effectively how beSlick was born.
Initially, spreadsheets can be used. But when you need permissions, reporting, audit trails, to-do list, feedback, rich documentation, and integration, spreadsheets alone are not enough.
Instead, you’ll want software that keeps everything organized for you. beSlick supports you whether you’re working from home or in person, and whether you’re running a small business, enterprise, or exclusively online business.
9. Accelerate improvement that sticks
Now that you have the foundation of a mechanism to manage your business system, it should become a known priority to focus the minds of your team and employees.
Agenda points in meetings should address how process change can affect positive evolution quickly and empower staff.
Business change happens quickly, while service happens consistently, and growth starts to become a clockwork function as you navigate business operations.
Systemizing your business means putting yourself on the path to running the most successful business you can.
It gives your employees the space they need to breathe, while letting you take a step back (and maybe some much-needed time off) as the business processes take care of themselves.
If you’d like to read more about the steps you can take to systemize your business, and learn more about how our CEO Alister Esam managed to grow his business to operate in 40 countries while reducing his working week from 80hrs to 14hrs, take a look at his book The Dirty Word, on alisteresam.com, and try the free online assessment to understand your own progress on this journey.
Author Alister Esam, Author of The Dirty Word & CEO of beSlick
Alister Esam is a successful entrepreneur and investor, having bootstrapped his fintech software business eShare to international status operating in over 40 countries and servicing 20,000 board directors, before successfully exiting in 2018.
He now invests in a variety of startups and on a global mission to make work, work.