Making Systems Part of Your Company Culture

Today I want to share with you what I think are the core concepts you need to make systems thinking (both creating and using them) an integral part of your company culture.

First, let’s be clear:  Building systems can’t be a one-person, one-time effort.  It’s got to be an ongoing company-wide culture of creating, using, organizing, refining, and if need be, deleting your business systems.

Likely this will mean you’ll need to train your team to participate in the systematization of your business since many of your new team members will have little or no training in the importance, creation, and refinement of systems. In fact, some will instead see systems as a hassle or an impediment.

It’s your job to help them recognize how useful systems can be to get their jobs done—and how critical they are to the long-term success of the business.

One of your key leadership responsibilities is to establish the discipline and culture of creating and using systems in your organization.

This means you need to do things like:

  • Model the behavior you want – in this case of taking a little extra time on important functions to create a systematized solution. It also means that you follow the internal systems that are in place versus taking the “I’m special” route and ignoring or circumventing them.  Remember, your team is watching.
  • Acknowledge team members who have built or used an internal system to get a desired result. Walk into their office and thank them; stand up at a team meeting and praise them; send out a success story email to your company sharing what they did; etc.  What gets “rewarded” grows.
  • Get you team training in how to effectively build and store systems. Again remember – most of them likely have had no formal education on how to do this.
  • Stick with it over time. Your company won’t establish the systems discipline all at once; rather, it’s a cumulative process that takes place over time, just like building a habit.

Second, recognize that every successful business system has two layers: the process layer and the format layer.

The process layer consists of the step-by-step process or procedure you’ve created. Does your system accurately capture the steps of the process so that when you follow it, you consistently get the desired result? It does you no good to formalize poor processes.

You want your systems to capture your best practices and winning moves, making it easier for your company to replicate and scale those successes.

The format layer deals with how you package and present your system to your team. Is your system easy to use? Is it transparent so team members intuitively understand how to use it? Can it be automated so much of the work happens via technology instead of manual work?

For example, this could be automated reporting built into your database to track sales or monitor client orders. It could also be enterprise software that your team uses to run the entire flow of your business, featuring key systems built directly into the software. Or it could be simple, low-tech tools like a script for your scheduling assistant to use when he or she leaves a message for people, or a standardized form that your receptionist gives each new client to fill out upon arriving for an appointment.

Done right, systems make life easier for your team and success more predictable for your business.

Remember, having a solid process isn’t enough, you have to package that process in ways that your team will actually use.

And how do you know if your system has a good, useable format?

Ask one simple, unambiguous, incontrovertible question: “Is my team using it?

The real test is whether your team embraces it, ignores it, or even worse, creates a shortcut system for the task.

Your team members want to do a good job. If your business systems are simple, intuitive, and effective, they will use them. If they’re confusing, complicated, bloated, or cumbersome, they’ll ignore these systems and even create their own “cheat sheet” hybrid versions instead. But these homespun, individual hybrids normally aren’t scalable.

In fact, they usually only work for that one team member and only as long as the volume of your business stays relatively level. Plus, even if this private shortcut works, rarely is it ever captured in a way that the rest of your business can use it. And when that team member goes, so does that know-how.

To get the format layer right, watch the way your team members use, or don’t use, your systems. Don’t argue, don’t preach, don’t cajole—simply observe.

For more on building systems, including a free tool kit with 21 in-depth video trainings to help you scale your business and get your life back, click here.