4 Steps Towards Building Great Processes
Updated: May 31
One of my all-time favorite mentors, Lindsay, was an organizational development academic as well as an experienced operator of small and medium-sized businesses. He was passionate about how critical systems and processes were to the long-term health, growth, and value of a company. On more than one occasion, Lindsay would raise his voice, pound the table and say forcefully, “formal systems to support informal behaviors", meaning the presence of a formal system allowed us to operate in our role with a clear process and structure. In doing so, we would be more present, efficient and effective in what we did.
Formal systems to support informal behaviors.
Imagine you are the mastermind behind a small, but successful sausage manufacturing plant. You've gained quite a bit of a following, with people driving from all over to purchase your product and see your facility. You have great relationships with your employees, customers and suppliers. Hands down though, most of your success can be attributed to the unique quality of your products, created from top-secret recipes and years of hard work and expertise in the industry. These recipes are so sacred, in order to help keep them safe from competitors, they aren't written down anywhere nor have they ever been shared with anyone. So, without you, no sausage and no business.
Boy, does this sound like a recipe for disaster (pun intended). Even though you are a great businessperson, you have managed to make yourself a prisoner of your company!
Anything in this story ring true for you in your role as an owner, leader or manager? Whether they want to admit it or not, most people can relate and have experienced at least some level of being a prisoner. So, what can you do about it?
Ask your team to document the top 1-2 processes in each functional department. Challenge your managers to do a simple reverse engineering exercise to get started on documenting each step of the process(es). It can seem overwhelming but I strongly recommend you start somewhere, take small bites… do it today! You won't regret putting in the hours now in order to enjoy the freedom later.
The steps of each training process should be captured so they can be replicated correctly time and time again. This is key when bringing more people into the organization. More minds bring more ideas, which should be encouraged but we can never lose track of what got us here in the first place… making great sausage!
Teach, train and hold your team accountable. A system or process is only as good as it is implemented in each instance. It does not matter how well we have crafted and documented a process. If it is not followed correctly, it is useless. Not only should we have an effective training program, but we must also ensure we are holding people accountable to using the process the right way. You don’t want people winging it with the secret recipe!
Create a centralized process storage area. Is this a folder in a shared drive, a departmental resource portal, etc.? Make sure you have made your processes easy to find and access. Take the time to make sure it is an easy-to-use software. Don’t make it difficult for people to do the right things the right way in your organization!
As an owner, leader or team member, there are simple things you can do today to improve the overall systems and process health of your organization. It's okay to take incremental steps as long as you commit to taking steps and leading your teams towards a healthier, simpler and more valuable company. By doing so, you will create a business that is more fun to operate, more profitable and can help you personally gain more freedom over your time.
Still need a little more to get started? Download The Definitive Guide to Standard Operating Procedures below and reach out to me with any questions! I'm happy to help.