Four Reasons Why Your “Systems” Aren’t Producing the Results Your Want

You know that to grow/scale your business, you need to create systems (even if you don’t like them). So, you start creating a few of them. You look at the work you’re putting in and the results you’re getting and you start thinking, “Is this really worth the effort?”

Based on what all the experts you’ve read and listened to say, you wonder, “Why does everyone make such a big deal about systems?” It all seems like a whole lot of work for a very small amount of gain.

If you’ve ever wondered that, I think you’re going to enjoy today’s post on why most business owners and entrepreneurs don’t see the kind of results they’d like to see from their efforts at systemizing their businesses.

So, why aren’t the systems you’re creating producing the kinds of results you’d like to see? Chances are …

#1 – They’re not fully documented step-by-step

Now, technically, everything is a system—which means that even random (or seat-of-the-pants) activity is a system (just a bad one :-). However, for your business to have a real system in place, it can’t be a random, seat-of-the-pants, kind of system. It needs to be a fully documented system that anyone can read and know exactly what to do next (or who’s supposed to do the next step or when or with what resources, etc.)

The problem, of course, is that most of us who start and lead small businesses hate having to do the “tedious” work of documenting, step-by-step, what needs to be done to successfully complete a task. So, what we tend to do is leave out a number of details that need to be included. We like to say to one of our employees, “It’s pretty easy. There are just five things you need to do to get this task done.” When in reality, there might be 34.

Take something as simple as, “Write a thank you note to a new customer.” That sounds pretty simple and straight forward, doesn’t it? But is it? Think of all the options

  • Do you use a specially created Thank You card for your business? Or is it okay to use your regular letterhead? Or a store-bought Thank You card?
  • Should it be hand-written or typed?
  • What content should go in it?
  • Who should write it?
  • Who should sign it?
  • Where is the Thank You card stock found?
  • Who should re-order the card stock? At what number should the card stock be re-ordered? By whom?
  • How soon after a sale should it be sent?
  • Should you use a postage stamp? Or is a postage meter okay?
  • Should the address be handwritten? Or is a label okay? And who should address the card?

Now, if you’re thinking, “That seems like overkill!” that’s probably because you’re not the person on the receiving end of the documented instructions. As owners and entrepreneurs, we tend to do what we do intuitively. Most of what our businesses have to do seems obvious to us. But that’s the problem, it’s not that obvious to everyone else.

Even worse, when we give them the “freedom to fill in the blanks,” and they do what they think is right, we often correct them, “I can’t believe you used the postage meter and put a label on that Thank you card!” To us, it seems obvious. If you’re writing a Thank You card, “everyone knows” you should use a Thank you card (not letterhead), hand write it (not type it), put a physical stamp on it (not use a postage meter), and hand address the envelope (not use a label). Duh! But that’s not always obvious to everyone else.

In other words, if you want your systems to perform better, you have to make sure you document every step fully. Rushing to create a systemized procedure is a recipe for failure.

So do you? Do you tend to rush through creating a system just to get the task done? Or do you tend to take the time to fully document your systems with every little step?

#2 – They’re Not Observed In Real Time

Mistake number two falls right on the heels of #1 and that is, once a business leader creates a system, they’re often so thrilled that this task is off their back, that they move on as fast as possible to the next task. “Okay, I wrote this system/procedure for you. Just follow it.” Phew! Next!

But, as you probably noted above, what’s obvious to us and what’s obvious to others is often vastly different. Just because you’ve created a system/procedure, doesn’t mean that you’ve filled in all the details that others need. Why? Because most of us aren’t self-aware enough to know what’s intuitive to us (and not to others).

The solution, of course, is to actually watch someone try to implement the process or procedure we’ve created. Since you’re reading this as a blog post, let’s assume you want to delegate out the process of posting your blog posts to your company blog. Seems like a simple system. You write a post. You send it to your admin (or VA or web person). They post it. Piece of cake.

Now, let’s assume you’ve been writing your own blog for the past two years. In your mind, this is a rather simple task (after all, you’re the business owner and you’ve been doing this for two years in addition to all your other responsibilities). So you quickly document your procedure and hand it off.

If you do this, and then actually decide to watch your admin try to implement your system, my guess is that within minutes you’ll probably begin to see a number of problems. For example,

  • You may have simply written, “Step one – Log in to website.” Okay, but how? What URL? What user name and password? And should they log in under your name or their own?
  • Or you may have written, “Step three – Copy text from MS Word into new post” Okay, but where do you click to add a new post? And when they go to paste the copy into the editor, MS Word does some funky things with the text. Since you’ve been doing this for two years or so you intuitively  go through the copied text in the editor and delete the spaces. Watching your admin copy and paste you realize you need to add that step to your procedure (i.e. what seemed obvious to you, wasn’t to them)
  • Or maybe you wrote, “Step five – Add picture to post.” Okay, but where should they go to get a picture? Do you have a specific website you use? Or do you have a database of images on your server? What’s the URL (if you use a website)? What’s the log in info? What size images do you like? What kinds of images do you like (hopefully not clip art :-)? How much are you willing to spend on an image? What kinds of rights do you want? How and where does the image go in the post? Do you prefer left or right justified images? Do you want to use a featured image or an image that gets placed in the body of your post? Do you want multiple images? Or just one? Etc.

Once you begin observing someone else trying to implement your systems/procedures, you’ll almost always realize that what seemed so obvious to you, isn’t to others (which is why so many systems don’t produce the kinds of results we’d like them to). Once you possess this knowledge, you can then go back in and fill in the missing data/steps in your documented system.

So, when you’re creating systems, do you actually watch your people try to implement them without your help? Or do you simply assume they can follow your first draft?

#3 – They’re Not Implemented Consistently By Everyone

A system is only as good as its design and how it’s implemented. Assuming you’ve designed it well, the next question is one of consistency of execution. In other words, if you’ve designed a referral system for your receptionist to use, and your receptionist only uses the referral system one out of every three times, you’ve got a problem

Or if Sally uses it consistently, but Angela makes up her own process and only uses yours one out of every five times, you’ve got a problem.

Note: This doesn’t mean that a system can’t have variation built into it. But if it doesn’t have variation built into it—and it’s only adhered to 60% of the time, that’s a problem.

Moreover, unless you’re actually measuring adherence, chances are you don’t know if your people are using it or not. In fact, it’s not unusual for a business owner to say, “My people use this system all the time,” only to find out that when adherence is measured, that it’s only used a faction of the time.

Furthermore, not only are we often modeling that it’s okay to not follow a stated policy/procedure (hey, we’re the owner/leader after all), we’re often guilty of letting certain people get away with not following policy/procedure (playing favorites).

However, if you and I want to create scalable businesses, we’ve got to advocate and ensure consistent adherence to the systems we design … by everyone (from us to superstars to average performers).

So do you? Do you ensure that everyone consistently uses your systems? Or do you allow systems to not be followed? Or for certain people to not follow them?

#4 – They’re Not Tested and Improved

While a lot of leaders think that systems are a straight-jacket, that’s just not true. Systems are designed to be improved. They’re designed to be tested. In fact, just routinely following them is a bad practice.

Let’s say you create a system for following up a new lead. And let’s say that step one is to send an email on day one, step two is to send a brochure and letter on day three; step three is to send them a follow-up email on day seven; and step four is to call them to set up an appointment.

Once that’s written, most business owners will check off that box and never review that system to see if it’s an optimized system. But what if you were to test and see if some changes would result in higher sales. What it …

  • What if you sent a hand written letter on day one instead of day three?
  • What if you sent them a lumpy mail letter (something tangible in addition to the letter, like a magnifying glass)?
  • What if you send the email on day five (instead of day one or seven)?
  • What if you send them a free book? Or a white paper? Or an educational DVD?
  • What if you were to call them on day one (but not try to sell anything) and then call again on day fourteen to ask for an appointment?
  • What if you were to send them to an application page before you responded personally?
  • What if someone else were to make the follow-up calls vs. you? Etc.

You just don’t know until you try and measure the results—which is why most business systems are sub-optimized (they’ve never been tested). Which means that if you want to get your systems to produce better results, you’ve got to make sure you’re continually testing, measuring and adjusting your systems in order to produce the kinds of results you want.

So, how are you doing at that? Are you continually and consistently testing your systems? Or are you content to just let them continue for years on end with no change?

Well, there you go. Four critical reasons why your systems aren’t producing the results you want. Which of the four are you and your business most guilty of?

  1. Not fully documenting them step-by-step
  2. Not observing someone trying to implement them in real-time
  3. Allowing certain people to not implement them consistently
  4. Not testing and improving them

Correct that issue and you’ll begin to see better results from your systems!

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you haven’t read, Breaking Through Plateaus, yet, that would be a great place to start on this topic.