We recently surveyed all of you — our list of Business for Unicorns subscribers — and nearly 100 of you replied. Thank you so much! Y’all are the friggin’ best!
Overwhelmingly this was the #1 questioned asked:
How do I create systems to help my business grow and run more effectively?
Mark and I have decided to tackle this question head-on in 2017 to help all of your kick some serious ass. In fact, we are currently working on a digital platform that will give you access to many of MFF’s done-for-you systems. WHAT!? That’s crazy.
Yup, we’re going to be spilling all the beans by giving you the exact systems we use at MFF for sales, marketing, customer service, training, and more! Pretty exciting, right? Keep your eyes peeled for more details about that product launch shortly.
Today, I want to dive right into this topic by giving you the tools you need to start creating your own highly effective business systems.
It makes perfect sense that so many of you asked about this topic. Building robust, reliable, and effective systems to run your business is f*cking crucial to your success. Whether you are a team of one or have many employees, the quality of your services directly correlates to the quality of the systems that drive them.
Creating systems is a keystone skill-set for every business owner to develop.
First things first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what a “business system” is and what it is not. Here’s my definition: A business system is a process or combination of processes that work together to achieve efficient, consistent, and measurable outcomes.
It’s not a sexy definition, but that’s what it is.
Notice that a business system isn’t a single task, policy, or procedure. A business system is often composed of multiple tasks, policies, and procedures. A car engine is a great great example of a system. It is comprised of multiple processes that are dedicated to specific functions. The best engines in the world are those that are efficient, work consistently, and produce measurable results. (Did I just use a car metaphor?! Mark this day on your calendar friends. It’s likely to never happen again.)
Debbie Downer alert! Before we continue I have to share a quick, crappy disclaimer.
Building effective systems for your business requires time-consuming, sometimes complicated, imperfect action. It’s hard. It’s messy. You’re not always going to get it right, and it requires constant innovation.
That’s the bad news about building business systems. Don’t stress my friend. There is good news too.
Building quality business systems can also save you time, build team unity, increase your profit, and so much more. When you really nail it, a robust system has the ability to grow your business like nothing else can. A good system “automates” essential business activities so you can focus your energy on high-impact priorities that bring you the best results.
So, how do you do it?
How do you turn the most frustrating and complex areas of your business into an effective system?
I’ve outlined six key stages of the method we use at MFF for building systems.
These stages can happen quickly, but more often than not they require weeks and months, not days, to do well. So be patient. Complex issues don’t get ironed out over night. As the famous restaurant mogul Danny Meyer would say, this kind of change requires leaders to give constant, gentle pressure.
Along the way I will also share a real life example of how we created a powerful system at MFF using this method. At each stage, I’ll reveal the relevant portion of the story so you can see how this process has played out for us step by step.
Let’s dive in.
Stage 1: Define your current reality.
Like most journeys, the first step is to define where you currently are on the map.
Take a moment with your team to fully diagnose one area of your business that is currently not working for you. Brainstorm (in writing) all the ways your current way of functioning in this area is working for you and all the ways it sucks. Don’t think about solutions yet, just brain dump all the information you have about what is currently happening in this area of the business.
Sometimes this phase can go very quickly because you don’t have a current system. If that’s the case, then what you are diagnosing is your current need. How are you managing without a system for this business function and what’s the cost of not having one?
Other times you are trying to pivot from an existing system that isn’t working for you. You might need to ask other team members for input about the current way of doing things, or survey your clients, or do some extra observations. The goal is to lay it all out on the table. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Honestly, this can be a cathartic experience. Vent. Share all your frustrations. Not only will you feel better, but it will help you and your team start to rally and unite around fixing the issue.
I promised to give you a real-life example, so here is how Mark and I defined a very challenging problem and how it turned into a powerful, game-changing system.
It was the end of 2015. Mark and I would often find ourselves spending the bulk of our days trying to manage a never-ending avalanche of feedback and ideas from both Ninjas (clients) and our team. Any given day could be filled with dozens of feedback points, both positive and negative: a Ninja was upset about a change that was made to the schedule, a team member was late showing up for work, a Ninja told someone that hey just had the best training session of their life, a team member was frustrated that sound system wasn’t working properly… the list could go on and on.
So we sat down and tried to do Stage 1, further defining our reality. We realized that not only were we getting a huge variety of different types of feedback throughout the day, but each piece of feedback was delivered in a different way. One thing I would learn about by email, the next item someone would tell me casually in the hallway, the other I’d read about on a Facebook post. Jiminy crickets!! How the heck is a person suppose to keep up with all of this?!
It was tough enough to keep track of the information, let alone digest it in a way that would lead to taking meaningful steps to celebrate the good stuff and fix the broken stuff. We were wasting tons of time and not effectively leveraging the feedback to improve.
Which brought us to Stage 2…
Stage 2: Identify all the possible solutions.
Once you have fully diagnosed the current reality, it’s time to start thinking about possible solutions. My biggest tip here is to brainstorm solutions without judgement. All too often I see “brainstorming” sessions where the leader/boss will shoot down every idea that gets tossed out. Yuck. Don’t be that person.
Allow everyone involved to brainstorm without judgement. Welcome every idea — the good, bad, and yes the really, really dumb ones too.
At this stage, it may also be helpful to do a little research. Ask yourself — What solutions already exist for this issue? What are other companies doing to solve this same problem? Who do I know that might be grappling with this challenge?
Simply collect all of the possible solutions you can find. Don’t judge them, just collect.
Over a series of discussions, Mark and I did our best to brainstorm solutions to our challenge of feedback and idea overload. We started our brainstorm by examining all of the different channels and methods through which ideas and feedback were being sent our way, as well as conducted conversations with team members about their experience.
We also turned to books we had read, ideas we had heard from peers in the industry, and reflected on systems we had used in past jobs. Remember, Stage 2 isn’t about finding a solution, it’s about finding all the possible solutions.
Stage 3: Systemize your solution.
Now that you have a great big pile of possible solutions, it’s time for the real magic.
This is the part that requires some creativity and patience. It’s hard to give specific instructions for how to do this, because often this process is iterative. It takes several attempts to get it right.
At this phase, your job is to turn one (or more) of your solutions into a clear, repeatable system. The first decision you have to make is to narrow down your pool of solutions. Here are some key questions to help you do this:
What solution (or combination of solutions) will create the best results?
What solution (or combination of solutions) is the easiest to explain to others?
What solution (or combination of solutions) can be executed in a repeatable way?
Once you have selected the most effective solution, your next task is to systemize it. Usually this involves documenting this solution with a series of procedures and policies. Depending on the area of your business you are working on, there are countless ways to build your system.
A good business system is always:
Simple and Clear
Are there clear procedures that are well documented?
Does everyone responsible for the system know what’s expected of them?
Does the system account for any gaps or anomalies?
Is the system resilient to forces that will try to derail it?
Is the system easily maintained by those who run it?
Does the system include ongoing evaluation or improvement?
If you can answer all of those questions in the affirmative, you’re doing great. Well done! Have a quick celebratory cocktail, and move on to Stage 4.
The solution we landed on to help us wrangle our never-ending feedback parade was inspired by a system I had used in a past job. It was a system that I knew was repeatable and reliable, and with just a few tweaks could work for our purposes.
The system we created (that will actually be part of the product we’re launching soon — I’m such a tease!) is called Glows & Grows. It’s a system that allows us to capture great feedback (Glows) and constructive feedback (Grows) digitally all in one place. It’s like black magic!
Each time a team member sees or hears of something wonderful happening at MFF, it gets recorded digitally as a Glow and every time they see or hear of a situation where expectations were not met it is recorded as a Grow. We see all of this information in one database that we can track over time, discuss in meetings, and use strategically to improve all areas of our business.
This system checked all of the boxes for us. It’s simple, clear, impenetrable (mostly), and pretty darn self-regulating. This biggest hurdle in creating this system was actually Stage 4.
Stage 4: Test your system to get feedback and buy-in.
This part is so crucial, and to be perfectly transparent we actually don’t do this as much as we should at MFF. We’re always so driven to roll out a new program or product that we don’t take time to test it and get feedback. We should — it’s really important.
Think about it. What if a car manufacturer didn’t fully test their vehicles with crash dummies before selling it to consumers?! That’d be nuts. How reckless would it be for us all to be driving around in cars that might not have working brakes, or that don’t have a fully functioning speedometer? That’s what you’re asking your team to do every time you launch a system or procedure that isn’t fully tested and refined. It’s risky and dangerous.
(Okay. Maybe it’s not life or death, but you get the point.)
So, how do you test your new business system? There are so many ways to do this, but here are two methods that I have always found useful:
Role play with your team before doing it for real. Let’s say you have a new system for tracking prospects that walk through your doors. You can role play that interaction with your team during a team meeting to see how it goes and get their feedback before trying it on real life clients.
Try a partial roll-out before full implementation. Let’s say you have a new system for handling clients who want to terminate their membership. This can be a sensitive conversation, so it’s important to get it right. You could ask one or two staff members to try it for a week before implementing it with everyone. Let them be the guinea pigs before thrusting a new process onto your entire team.
In both cases, testing your system and getting feedback can lead to further refinement before you implement it fully. This also gives your team time to get used to the new idea and creates buy-in.
It’s always better to take your time building a great system than to launch a crappy one quickly.
Before we launched our Glows & Grows system we actually had a one week trial. We asked the team to track all of the times we exceed expectations (Glows) and missed expectations (Grows) for one week using the new system. We wanted to see if the technology worked, but also to have everyone try on the behavior.
We learned quickly in this trial week that recording the Glows & Grows using the online form was easy. The hard part was agreeing on the definition of each and building the skill of recognizing it when it happens in the moment. In order for us all to be on the same page about recognizing when we missed or exceeded the expectations of our Ninjas (clients) and each other, we had to first be on the same page about the expectations themselves.
That was a crucial lesson that informed the next step, Stage 5.
Stage 5: Train everyone on the new system. Then train them again.
Going back to the Danny Meyer quote from earlier, managing your team through this kind of systemic change requires constant, gentle pressure. A single one-hour training workshop is a great start, but your team will often need several dedicated hours to learning a new system (depending on the complexity).
My best tip is to train your team until the person who tends to learn the slowest is 100% confident and the person who learns the fastest hates you for wasting so much of their time. (Joking, but not really.)
Train your team on a new system until they can teach it back to you. Then train them some more.
When you consider Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field, it seems absurd that we would expect members of our team to become an incredible salesperson with a one hour, one day, or one week training program.
Many of you know this to be true when it comes to your mastery of fitness and nutrition information. I’ve met world-class trainers who have been in the game for decades and say that they still feel like they’ve just scratched the surface of true mastery.
No matter how small the business system you are creating, give your team a chance to learn it. Be patient. It might take some time.
After having completed a one week test run, we had more information to really make sure our team was fully prepared to implement the Glows & Grows system. We spent at least three hours over several team meetings reviewing and clarifying how the system works. We also spend one-on-one time with Team members who needed some extra support learning the system.
Even during this training period, we continued to refine definitions of terms, clarify steps in the process, and revise roles of individual team members.
Which brings us to the final stage in this method.
Stage 6: Review. Refine. Repeat.
Remember when I said in the beginning that creating business systems can be a pain in the ass? Well, here is perhaps the toughest pill to swallow. Even the most skilled entrepreneur and business owner will never be able to create an iron-clad system for their business that lasts forever and ever.
Even when you flawlessly execute the five stages I’ve outlined above, there will always be a need for further review and refinement of your business systems. They are living, breathing parts of your culture. They define the actions of your team every day and, like your team, they should evolve and grow with you over time.
The systems of your business are never “done.”
That’s Stage 6. You review, refine, and repeat. Like a fine wine, your business systems should get better with age. Lean into it. This is truly the noble work of owning and growing a business.
For us this stage lasted about six months. No joke. It took that long for our Glows & Grows process to feel like a habit for everyone on the team — for us to be truly comfortable.
And still, over one year after we launched it we’re still making adjustments. We made adjustments to the system when we opened our second location. We made adjustments to the system when some manager roles shifted around. From time to time we simply find a better way to do X, or a faster way to do Y, or we learn that we just don’t need Z anymore.
Even though it continues to evolve we now we have a consistent, reliable, repeatable process for something that used to be chaotic and time consuming. That’s the power of systems.
So, there you have it, my friends. That is my unique approach to building powerful business systems. It’s not easy, but it’s important.
When you do it right, quality business systems can save you time, build team unity, increase your profit, and so much more. A robust system has the ability to grow your business like nothing else can, “automating” essential business activities so you can focus your energy on high-impact priorities that bring you the best results.
Give it a try and let me know how it works for you. Share your thoughts and experiences below and hit me up with any questions.
I’m dedicated to helping you take action on these ideas, so use and abuse me!
Thanks Michael-good stuff!
I think the biggest eye-opener for me was the amount of patience needed to implement any type of customer service system improvement. It is not necessarily/purely a linear/analytical process…it takes quite a bit of “soft” and contextual skill to create and implement good systems.
And hopefully this is not too abstract but…..Another huge awareness for me was realizing my personal growth needs may be the biggest impediment to creating good systems (see patience example above…just one of many in my case :-)).
Realizing that I may be a big part of the problem is not an easy thing to face and overcome…but it is part of the self-actualization process of business creation.
Great observation Jeff! You are not alone my friend. As leaders, our ability to be affective is often limited by our own personal weaknesses. For example, I’m terrible a being patient. That’s why I often skip Stage 4. I rationalize to myself that “I don’t want to waste time testing stuff and getting other people’s opinions, they should just trust me.” Haha. Not the best impulse for leader to have.
I’m continually working to change that mindset, and when I’m able to the rewards are tremendous. Keep working on yourself dude. You and everyone around you will benefit from your personal development efforts.
Well done, Michael. Great stuff.
Thanks for being a constant supporter Chase! I appreciate you dude.
Love your epic posts oozing of personality ….
Q: what system or software have you found it simplest to create your systems / operating prosicedures for repeatable take?
Google drive, wix website where they can acccess all they need to do on an organized manner?
Hey Josh – Great question! The answer really depends on the kind of system you’re creating. We have used all kinds of easily accessible software. Google Drive, Formstack, and Infusionsoft have been a few of our favorites.
There is so much free (or cheap) software available today that makes creating systems more efficient. I’d suggest that you explore and try things out to find the right fit for each project.
Here are a few more app that I love: https://www.businessforunicorns.com/four-apps-improve-business-lower-stress/