BY: Michael McMillan
Okay, you are about to start you first day at a new job and you could not be more excited. You found the perfect outfit to wear, you are running ahead of schedule, and you even made it through your morning cup of coffee without wearing any. Best day ever!
As you arrive to your new office you see a sign welcoming you to the team, and you are instantly swept to your desk and introduced to everyone along the way. Man, could this get any better?
Your new manager is waiting for you at your desk with your freshly printed business card, your sweet new Macbook Pro, and a new iPhone 6. Score!
After you get a bit settled in for the day, you ask your manager, “so what’s the plan?” To which they respond, “well, I figured you would shadow me today, and then later we have a planning meeting and will get you some work assigned.” Okay a little odd, but hey maybe they just believe in me so much they don’t think I need training. Cool!
IT, HR, and the parade of new faces come by your desk till planning. You get to the meeting and are told you have a truck load of work coming your way. Perfect, you are going to be busy! Then you ask two questions that stop this perfect day in its tracks.
“So if I have questions on how to do any of these projects where can I go to get help?” The response, after the snickers, is to see your manager and they will help you out, or get someone on the team to pitch in. Then you ask the next question, “where do I go to see the specific way to submit my work once it is completed?” The response, “your manager or co-workers can tell you.” “We really do not have any of that documented, but you will pick it up quick.”
Any employee that is coming from an environment with well documented processes knows this is a HUGE red flag for productivity. Why? The answer is actually easier that you might believe.
When processes are not documented for the way things are to be accomplished and are left up to interpretation, the possibility of real or perceived errors can happen. One of the most common is double work. Typically you see this as a result of the initial needs not being documented, the work being done to the “understood specifications,” and then the being told to do it again after review. This can cause massive delivery delays, and potentially jeopardize deals and relationships both internally and externally.
Lucky or unluckily every organization I have worked at has had a lack of documented processes, especially in the sales, marketing, and account management environment. For this reason, I am now hyper sensitive to documented standard operating procedures, and process automation as I know the impact this can have on the overall business. Just taking the time to write down how and why you did something can be one of the most important things you can do for your business's long term success.
The reason most businesses are not doing this because it is perceived as a time drain. This is 100% BS! The real reason people are not doing it is they are overwhelmed and not sure where to start. So to help you I have given you step one for every business size that works in any department.
- Start-up: You are a start-up just do it! Every time you do anything in your business write down what you did, and the next time you need to do it follow what you wrote. If you find a better way to do it just update the document. This will save you an insane amount of time when you go to hire your first employee, and help provide you a line of sight to which tasks you need an employee to help with as you will find yourself revising specific SOP a ton, and that is usually where you should insert your first staff member.
Small Business: If you are a small business founder or leader reading this please pay very close attention to this article. When you have reached the status of small business you typically have one of two ways your business will go. It will grow, or it will go out of business eventually. Process documentation and updating is the only way to ensure your business can be replicated at a competitive pace and provide you, the founder or leader, a chance to have a life away from the business. Many small business founders come to me begging for a vacation after 10+ years. My sole response to them is, “write down everything you do in one week without failure.” “Then next week follow what you wrote for the entire week and update as necessary.” “Then on week three leave the country and let your staff follow your processes.” Most are scared to death and never follow my advice. Those who did tell me that it was the point in their business that everything got better as they finally allowed their staff to be staff.
- Medium Business: Most medium sized organizations actually have processes in their business that are documented, but many time have not been updated in a long time. In my experience a medium sized organization without clear SOP is suffering from a lack of updating their strategic objectives, and properly measuring their staff against the SOP that matches their strategic objectives. In this environment I like to take a very radical approach and force the leadership team to throw out all their current processes and start fresh. Step one is redrawing their painted picture for the business, and then high level designing all the teams and processes they would need to achieve that. When done, we then take their processes back out to see if any still work. If they do, we inject them, if not we have some work to do. This process takes time, but in the end it sets the business up for a lot of success by motivating the organization on every level.
Enterprise: Similar to Medium sized businesses Enterprises can not reach their size or scale without processes being established, and being worked. In enterprise level organizations this is all about needing a facelift on dated and tired SOP. In an Enterprise environment, due to politics and many other factors, it is almost impossible to take the radical approach we did with Medium businesses. Instead here we are forced to take a more traditional, and methodical approach to revising process. The best way to do this is to start with one cross functional team that touches many departments and work with them to revise all of their processes. Then document the improvements carefully for a presentation to the board and/or leadership of the organization. If done right, this will get their buy-in and allow for a much larger rollout by revising the processes at the top of the organization that trickle down to the day-to-day processes. These projects can take years, but when done properly can show impacts in the businesses revenue that can alter their stock pricing significantly.
So in summary, no matter the size of your business, team, or project, you must document what you did to complete that project so in the event something happens to you, someone else can pick up the ball and run with it just like you would have. Remember, in business success is a result of mass replication of a quality output that results in a sale of your good or service. The only way to ensure that quality and replication is through processes.
To Your Success & Prosperity!