As business owners, we often hear about the importance of implementing processes and systems in our business to create a standardized, professional company that is not dependent on the owner or specific key people. However, for many small businesses, the question of how to effectively implement processes is very real and challenging. Actually it can be like a black hole – most small business owners have some idea of how to implement a process and what it entails, but when they actually start to apply it in their companies, they get only frustration, or at best, good results in the short-term and long-term disappointment.
Below I will reveal the most important points to consider to really implement processes successfully in a small business and achieve extraordinary results. I assure you that if you follow these steps, you will successfully implement systems and processes in your company, but you have to follow the steps at exactly, you cannot skip any.
Before starting with the steps, it is important to clarify something: creating and documenting systems is boring! Let’s be honest, there are not many small business owners out there who are passionate about documenting processes and making diagrams. It’s like a diet; nobody likes to stop eating their favorite foods, but if you want to be healthy, you have to make a few sacrifices. The same applies to creating and implementing systems. If successful, the recurring benefits will make it all worthwhile.
The 5 steps to successfully implement processes in small business are:
1. Define a list of critical processes to document, the people responsible and delivery date: very simply, put 5 columns in a Word or Excel sheet:
- The name of the process to document
- The accountable person (there can only be one leader)
- People who can participate in the documentation of the process (NOTE – there can be multiple participants, but only one accountable person)
- Commitment date to have the process documented by
- A column for recording the progress.
The list should not contain more than 3 processes to start. Even thought we know you probably have about 80 processes you would like to standardize including how to clean and leave the boardroom orderly, choose only 3 critical areas that will have a big impact on your business, and start designing related processes to improve those areas.
2. Use the right format for documenting processes : This part may seem inconsequential but it is not. The format can make all the difference. There are many different ways to document a process, but all are a mixture of two primary formats: flowchart (squares, triangles and arrows) and a list of process steps. I personally use a mix of the two, where the beginning of the process is first mapped in a very simple, very general way, and then explains the process in very detailed steps. My best recommendation is to seek help to define the format. If you send us an email, I will send you the format we use. If you need to choose one to begin, start with a list of steps.
3. Document the processes: like your diet, take it one day at a time, and gradually you will acquire the discipline to devote time to document processes, review them, improve them, etc.. The important thing is to start. And if people in the company begin to complain that you are giving them more work to do, because trust me, many will, the answer is simple: documenting processes is now part of your job, but for a good reason – in the long run, having a documented process will make your job easier. Short term pain for long term gain!
4. Implement the processes: once you are finished documenting your processes, you will need to implement them by training your employees. This is easier than it might sound. Start by getting everyone who will use the new system together, and read the process aloud. Each person should read their piece of the process. During this reading, you will most likely make adjustments to the process, as you get feedback from those involved. It is very normal for someone documenting a process to get “workshop blindness.” After viewing the same document over and over again, one will naturally miss some details or be blind to other points of view. This reading will help round out your process.
5. Review your new systems: this is the most important of all! To use the diet analogy again, it is useless to be on a strict diet for three months if in the end you go back to your old habits. Within a month of being off the diet, you will “bounce” back to your previous weight. By the same token, documenting processes is useless if they are not implemented continuously, until they become the new habit. The secret here is to review them regularly. What does this mean? Very simply, when doubt or questions arise regarding an activity that already has a documented process, you should always refer to the process and review it. Check every two months with the staff, and read all processes aloud again, in the same way as described above. After about 4 or 6 months, you can extend the time between reviews to every four months. In this way, you will both maintain and improve your systems over the long term.
The reality is that well implemented systems in a company can be a tremendous blessing, a true liberation, as they free up your time and create a more efficient business. So stick with it – it’s worth it!