Many people think that systems are a distraction – or just extra work. Here at BHH, we don’t think so. We think that systems are the key to business success – including growth.
Why are they important? Because systems ensure focus and allow replication. Understood as a standardised set of processes, they are the key to:
With the right system in place, you can recruit people with the right attitude to start with. The right system means that new staff do not have to be so skilled. They’ll know what to do from day 1 and, provided they follow the system, they’ll deliver the results you need and want.
But goals are more important than systems, right? Wrong!
Many times we focus on the goal, not on how we get there. Many people are surprised to hear me say this, but goals are often short term, whereas a system is forever.
Think of a system as the path to the future and your goals as signposts along the way. After all, when you reach one goal, you’ll want to set another one – that’s the way goals work. But a well-designed system stays forever.
Of course, a focus on systems seems like a diversion. There’s all the day to day stuff to manage, then staff, then customers. How to get started?
One tip we have here at BHH is to get staff involved. Properly involved. Explain why systems matter. Why they are important to the business and to staff themselves. Get them on board. Establish a template (a common way of recording how, what, who in each department or area). Set staff the task of drawing up a basic system for their area and set a timescale. They will surprise you. Apart from sharing the load, it gives staff real buy-in. It will also lead to improved processes, greater efficiency and happy staff.
But is it possible to systemise growth?
Here at BHH we know it is. The Business Growth System we implement with clients allows us to look at all areas of the business – operations, staffing, finance, legal and marketing – it really is a 360 degree view. We identify gaps, the actions necessary to close those gaps, and then agree a time bound action plan to close these gaps.
To sum up: If a system is a means to achieve a goal, and if your goal is growth, then there should be a system for that. Exciting times indeed.
Reading about how to succeed in business is very instructive. It can also be frustrating. While I like to learn as much as I can from business experts, I think they make things more complicated than they need to be.
For example, when it comes to how to make a great business, gurus talk a lot about products, capabilities and innovation. And, of course, all these are important. At the same time, I think experts often start from the wrong place. They focus on the mechanics of the business, not with what is delivered. In effect, this puts the business first and the customer an inevitable second.
So, faced with increasing competition, how can a small or medium business do it better? My view is that businesses need to differentiate to survive. While they need to provide what customers want, they should also strive to provide what other businesses cannot give them. But where to start?
I think the answer is to put the customer first. Naturally, all businesses claim to do this. But I’m not so sure.
A good way to do this is to use a ‘customer journey map’. This is a technique for describing all the interactions that a customer has with a business (and vice versa) from the first time a customer becomes aware to the last time they use you. It is designed to identify the path between these two points. It’s also a great way to unpick the necessary from the wasteful, and the unavoidable from the irritating. And it puts the customer squarely at the centre of what you do.
By incorporating a timeline, the maps also point to faster ways to bring services to clients. Another use is to discover points of differentiation at each step of the journey - awareness, selection, delivery, payment, use, ‘after sales service’ and selection once more. In this way, a business can uncover opportunities to position an offer in ways that competitors do not.
Not only is it a great opportunity to develop insight into how clients experience your service, it’s an opportunity to engage staff and to unlock creativity within a business.
Differentiation is a big word for thinking about how we serve customers. You can be faster, better and add more value in a number of ways. But, to me, putting the customer right at the heart of what you do seems a great place to start.