Build Systems

“How did Evelyn take care of these clients?”, I asked.  All I got in response was a shrug.   It was my first job out of college and soon after being hired I was assigned to step in after a long-time employee quit unexpectedly.   Evelyn had done her job for years, generally with good results, so she was given a lot of independence.  The problem was that Evelyn wasn’t there anymore – and no one actually knew what she did, or how she did it.  

The next three weeks were a nightmare of false starts, bad decisions, and embarrassing conversations with customers.  We didn’t know how to do Evelyn's job.  We had to start from scratch.

Where Does It Live?

Whatever business you are in, you survive in part by doing things the same way, over and over again.  There’s a routine for how you clean out the oven.  There are certain steps to take to ensure that the equipment is maintained correctly.  Every Friday someone needs to send the inventory order in.  There are tasks that need to be completed for things to run the way they are supposed to.

Where do those tasks live?  Do they exist anywhere other than inside of someone’s head?

You Know the Question. Here’s the Answer

Can a buyer duplicate your results?  That’s one of three questions you must answer about the results your business generates.  If a buyer is going to duplicate your results, you must:

What Are "Systems"?

Systems take the knowledge of what you do and puts it into something that can’t “walk out the door”. 

“I’ve always had systems in my business.  Some were as simple as a note on a power switch that shouldn’t be turned off, or a short list posted on the door of 5 things to do before you leave for the day.  None of them are perfect, but they all create a benefit.  Instead of asking an employee “did you do . . .” and working through the list of items in my head, I simple ask “did you check off everything on the list”.   It gives me confidence that the work gets done right, and it gives the employee confidence that they didn’t forget something.

The systems you operate with can be sophisticated or simple based on the needs of your business.  But there are two key things to remember:

Anything Is Better Than Nothing

How do you do what you do?  Is it written down? 

That’s where you need to start.  If that turns into an operation’s manual – that’s great.  If it’s something that only get’s taken out when a new employee is trained, that’s less great, but far better than trying to figure out how a job gets done with a situation like the one mentioned above.

If you don’t have systems, start now.   Anything is better than nothing.  Every system will bring its own set of challenges.  It will be too simple, or too complex, too time consuming or too hard to use.  Start building systems anyways.

Systems That Are Used Will Make Your Business Better

If you build the system that never gets used you will have gained some minor benefit, but you will have missed out on most of the potential.

“We had a checklist that all our customer service staff used.  But we discovered one employee was getting consistently better results than her co-workers, so we did a quick check.  We compared what she was doing to what the 3 other employees did.  It turns out she unknowingly added an additional step at the end of the checklist and the customers loved it.  As soon as we figured that out, we changed the system so that everyone added that step.”  

A buyer likes to see that your systems are working, and that they are a result of an ongoing effort to make your business better.  In this case they are not just buying the system that delivers the results, they are buying what you’ve learned over the years and how that learning has changed the systems.   Your systems should “live” with the business.

When a buyer comes to consider your business for purchase, they bring a lot of anxiety.  In particular, they worry about whether they can replicate the results you’ve achieved in the past.  The systems you have in place can make a huge impact on a buyer's confidence.  

Build your systems.  Make your business better and easier to sell.


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