Doing the Important Stuff: Implementing Systems
By Brian Clark
As business owners, we wear many hats. We all agree on this. Maybe we should make a list of what each of these hats has printed on the front.
What if we limit the list to the truly important things that a business owner should do? I’ll bet the list would look much different. What activities would make the list? Which wouldn’t? At the very least, building this list would force some thought and careful prioritizing.
Why do we need to make this list? Correct me if I’m wrong, but most of the time we find ourselves switching hats—it isn’t a smile we wear on our faces. I agree we all suffer some hat changes as owners, but is that it? It’s unavoidable? Period? End of this article…thanks for reading.
I don’t think so, not if I can offer some ideas on this topic to help profile this challenge and provide some tools to help you make more money.
Since we don’t get to blame anything but ourselves if we aren’t happy with our sales and profit, I encourage business owners to think back to the vision, excitement, and expectations that launched their companies. This is something most of us forget to do. Most envisioned ownership as a positive proposition. Then we pulled the trigger, got the business license, pulled in a few jobs, did good work, and got more jobs. Then it hit: chaos!
On the list of important things to do, I seriously doubt any of us included “welcome interruptions,” “take every call,” or “do everything as it comes at me.” Running supplies out to a job because the crew forgot them wouldn’t make the list of important owner duties either. This would be properly labeled as an interruption. I will bet you didn’t decide to be self-employed because you are a good parts runner.
Plenty of entrepreneurs get into business as a reaction to a terrible boss or a perception that there’s a lot of money in the business. However, I think we can all predict that high-achievement businesses might have taken a more calculated route to opening their doors. This is okay. It’s never too late to start recalculating.
Too often, we find ourselves lost in the sea of urgent things. To find our way out, the manager must lock onto better management. This means new knowledge, new priorities, new perspectives, and new attitudes. Otherwise, your activities won’t change. Successful people catch themselves when they ignore important responsibilities in the face of seemingly urgent interruptions. They give themselves no trophies for tail chasing.
Not-so-successful managers accept the chaos and sometimes brag about wearing a lot of hats as if it is a skill in and of itself. It might be fun in a chaotic way, but you won’t find a positive mention of wearing lots of hats in any bestselling management book.
At a point, an owner must recognize that a business license is not a business degree. We must lock onto learning management. Management has nothing to do with cleaning, microbials, anti-microbials, dwell time, negative air machines, or anything else that represents what you do on the truck. Even if you are an owner/operator, you are still a manager. You manage yourself.
Every business needs marketing, management, administration, and production. All of these talents are critical for growth and profit. Too often, we find ourselves lost in the sea of urgencies. Urgencies often help your immediate customers but stand square in the way of your business-building goals.
Production systems are important
We all agree there’s nothing funny nor profitable when the owner of a company has to take a ladder out to the jobsite because it was forgotten. Who forgot the ladder?
If the closest thing we have to a system for getting ladders to jobs is simply the intention of “remember to bring a ladder,” I must first say you can do better! Secondly, the answer to the question is: The forgotten ladder is the owner’s fault. Finally, I’ll point out that this is the perfect time (after reading the rest of this article) to assess your production systems (or lack thereof).
In the world of management, we believe there are certain things that should be left to peoples’ memory. They include such tasks as using a clean, empty cup when pouring coffee; opening the door before trying to walk through a doorway; starting the truck before putting it into gear; etc. Everything else in a company should follow a system. I’m not really trying to be funny here, but rather point out some profitable (and therefore important) activities for managers.
The owner owns our forgotten ladder problem since he or she failed to put in place a system that would ensure a ladder was placed securely on the proper truck and that that truck made it to the correct jobsite on the day it‘s needed. A good system addresses all elements needed to be more profit. There’s no profit in running ladders across town separately from other supplies and employees.
A simple “equipment and supplies needed” list for each job can put real percentage points on a company’s bottom line. Some systems are just this simple, and there is no need to complicate it. If the company can perform better service, it can impress more customers and widen profit margins. Therefore, who should take on the responsibility of remembering the ladder? (This isn’t a trick question.)
Returning to our comparison between important tasks and urgent tasks (those pesky interruptions), we can plainly see that the manager who prioritizes the time to create a simple checklist will not only cause jobs to go smoothly (making more money), he or she will avoid “helping employees make mistakes,” which is an art form that many managers have perfected by failing in the areas of production organization and systems.
Production systems belong on our list of important things to do.
Identifying the important things
I ask myself “is this a problem or an issue.” A problem is an interruption and might be urgent. An issue exposes a flaw in our outlook or process. An issue is important. A problem is urgent and must be dealt with. How fast we deal with it and the solution we find is unique to each problem. Relax and analyze. Let’s not allow others to prioritize our problems and gobble up our time for important things.
After we build our first system (or 50), we have to make sure to actually use them. The first system and the new “systems mindset” will take time to adopt. Nobody can change habits overnight. Just try to avoid the misperception that systems take too much time or the profit-killing attitude that it’s too much paperwork.
If we look at marketing as taking too much time, we won’t do that either. Building a business takes time. Everything takes time. The study of the urgent versus the important helps us protect time to do both when (and how) appropriate.
Consider the old phrase: “Why is there never enough time to do it right but always enough time to do it twice?” This describes why the “memory method” creates inefficiency. Yes, systems take time, but without them we fail in so many ways, some not so obvious in the short term.
We all agree that, in the middle a normal day, things happen. There is no perfect or sure-fire way to get your company to zero-interruption rate. Interruptions and urgencies happen. But we can eliminate lots of them. Use this article as encouragement and reason to take the first step in setting yourself up to grow. You’ll need people to help you grow, and your team will enjoy their jobs much more if you provide training and production systems to help guide their days to positive outcomes.
Don’t accept chaos as part of the deal. It’s only part of the deal if you accept the same, flat sales year after year (after year after year)… because this is what chaos creates.
You can have a business free of chaos, or you can spend the rest of a long career dealing with urgent interruptions instead of important things.
Brian Clark is president and CEO of Service Team of Professionals (STOP), a unique franchisor in water, restoration, and biohazard. STOP emerged from within the industry as a business consulting firm known for building companies through systems and close interaction. Clark is a seasoned consultant, business coach, and speaker. Reach him at [email protected].