Without Systems, You Will Be Small
Here is a leadership mistake that I have made often, and I think many other leaders make as well. I get excited about an idea; I share a vision and get several great people to join me. We work hard; we build beautiful teams, and everything seems to accelerate at an impressive speed. For a while.
But then we lose momentum. Why? I did not make sure the hard work of system creation had been done, and done well. Let me share with you today about this incredibly important, and so frequently missed, discipline in leadership.
If you have been following my recent blogs, you’ll know I have been writing about the values of a great team—six values. I hope these have inspired you to start thinking about your team’s values. Before I share the other six in our series, I wanted to pause for a couple weeks to reveal four elements of successful organizations. These are pivotal for effectively leading thriving businesses and teams. The first one, as I mentioned above, is: Systems.
What is to gain by creating systems?
Without systems, as organizations and teams grow, gradually minor inconsistencies begin to emerge. Even though there may be a oneness in spirit, it becomes evident that everyone is taking their own approach to the work. The further we get down this path, the more these inconsistencies develop into confusion and tension among our teams. Our people begin to feel the strain under a lack of consistency. As a result, our customers begin to detect it in the subpar delivery of our products and services. Inevitably, one ambitious leader says, “We need to grow!” A new expansions commences. And that expansion often becomes the straw that broke the camel’s back. Disaster ensues. This is a common scenario when organizations experience rapid growth without processes in place.
Early in the journey of a new business, everyone is excited to create and sell. We are excited to hire new talent and form our teams. It is much less thrilling, and seemingly less important, to make time for creating systems that will soon be needed to bond everything and everyone together. However, without systems in place, our organizations have no framework for growth. In the end, our leadership will crumble if we avoid creating systems. If this is something you are facing, let me share some ideas to remedy this potentially fatal miscalculation.
What are systems?
So what are systems: A policy and procedure manual? A set of rules? Defined methods? Well, yes. All of these. It is codifying what you do and how you do it, so it is done consistently and repeatedly without much variation or confusion, regardless of who is leading or how big you become. And here is the key: It’s up to you as the leader to make sure systems are created and regularly updated.
Unless you are starting a new operation, systems are likely already in place, whether passed on verbally, through instruction sheets, or by company memoranda. However, in many cases, the systems we practice are so varied between teams and individuals that alignment must take place before one system is readily adopted.
So the first steps are to break down what is done on our teams, talk about it, and agree upon one way to do things. Then, systems must be written. Record anything: how you hire people, promote products, buy merchandise, train new hires, market to the community, take care of your facilities, or secure your files. Finally, these systems can be printed or distributed electronically, as separate files or as one big document. They can be made available to everyone, or a portion of them may only be shared by certain groups.
Why do we dislike creating systems?
- They are binding. The mere thought of volumes of rules and regulations usually takes the wind from our sails of creativity and innovation. We may even think of them as outdated procedures that do not correlate well with what we do in real life.
- They take forever to write. And that is true in most cases. Systems are not easy to put together, especially if the person writing them is the same person running and leading the whole organization. If that is you, solicit help. Many times, companies will hire an outside firm to facilitate this major undertaking.
- They seem useless. Systems that are not applicable and practical will be useless. And clearly that’s not what we are talking about here. Maintain relevance when creating your systems, and you will find them to be both useful and beneficial. They will hold your organization together in times of change and growth, just like the frame of a plane holds it together in strong and violent turbulence.
What type of systems should we create?
- Simple. Remember, your team will not look at the systems that have been created unless they are simple to understand and easy on the eyes. (i.e. use bullet points; no big paragraphs, long sentences, legalese, or complex language). Make the document readable.
- Sharable. Where do you put your written systems? Are they easy for everyone to access? Whether you keep them online, or you prefer to have them in print, just make sure everyone on the team understands where to find them.
- Practical. Systems should be created to be used. This is not merely an exercise to check off as “completed.” Design your written systems to be implemented.
- Scalable. Scalable means that as your team or organization grows, these systems are designed to grow with you.
- Updatable. This is huge. Don’t start creating systems if you don’t intend to have a system in place by which they are updated anytime there is a change. Otherwise, no one will look at them after a while. They will become obsolete.
- Assignable. As a continuation from the last point, each part of the systems created and written should be assigned to a person to update on a regular basis. This step is often neglected, and it is assumed that the manager or the owner will update them.
- Not the law. These systems should not be treated like Holy Scripture. People create them; people can and should update them. Not only that, often when rules and processes are created, people neglect customer service, for fear that they must follow the rules at all costs. The only unbreakable rule great organizations have is this: Any rule can be broken to take care of people.
- Used for training. Make these written systems a cornerstone of your training programs. Continue to train your people to use them as the systems are updated over time.
- Comprehensive, but not exhaustive. If you try to code every little action your people take, the written systems will become overbearing. Cover the most important steps, but leave a little wiggle room.
- Part of the culture. As the leader, you are responsible to create the culture of your organization or team. Frequently, talk about systems with your leaders and in your team meetings.
Leadership is about taking people to great destinations. Many things must take place before these destinations are reached. Creating systems is part of the journey. I know this step may not be fun or pleasant, but take it form me, it is necessary.
Actionable step: Start today by assessing the systems in your organization. When you find areas where the processes are not well-defined and written, see to it that it happens.
About me: I attended the Wild at Heart Conference the first week of March with several members of my family. Author and speaker, John Eldredge, spent three days leading 600 men to dive deep into what the Bible instructs for heart of men. I recommend the book and the conference.
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