The benefits of a systemised business

Elizabeth Jenkins-Smalley

Elizabeth Jenkins-Smalley

Editor In Chief at The Executive Magazine

Marianne Page discusses the powerful impact that simple and effective systems can have on a business, having had a successful and varied career with McDonald’s for over twenty years, and developing both process and people.

Are you a hamster or a meerkat? Do you work in your business day to day, head down, fire-fighting, reacting to your inbox and to issues with your customers and team? Or are you a meerkat, with time to get your head up, to be proactive; to plan, to develop your team, to work on your business rather than in it?

If I asked you to describe the feeling you have as you walk into your business each morning, in just one word, what would it be?

Marianne Page, author and speaker

For many of the business owners I come into contact with, that word would be ‘stressed’ or ‘overwhelmed’, maybe ‘swamped’, or perhaps even ‘drowning’. Ok, so I go looking for people who are feeling this way, knowing I can help them, but it’s fair to say that the business world is full of people who are stressed and overwhelmed.

For some, it’s a temporary feeling – they can’t see the wood for the trees; they feel that the work, or the challenge in front of them is too great, and don’t believe they have the time to get all the stuff done that they need to. This temporary feeling can be overcome pretty easily when you know how.

For those who don’t know how though; who can’t find a way out, and who don’t get help; overwhelm becomes the norm and they live their lives in chaos and crisis – knowing they need to change but not knowing where to start. Every day they’re in their business, head down, working harder and harder, running to stand still – like hamsters on a wheel.

There’s so much to get done to keep the business going. No time for family…and certainly not friends. As for holidays…they are for when the business is a ‘success’.

Small business owners are told to fear analysis paralysis…told to keep going, work harder, ’get stuff out there’.

Planning? That’s for people who will never go far.

Systems? They are for people with no imagination, who like things safe.

Action! That’s where it’s at.

As small business owners we are all running so fast that we are actually slowing our own progress.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for taking action and implementing what I learn, but when you act without planning, when you’re always busy ‘doing the doing’, when your days are all random and reactive…you’re not free to grow your business and will forever be stuck.

So, how do you move from hamster to meerkat?

How do you free yourself from the day to day?

At McDonald’s we were taught to replace ourselves – to develop the systems that would make everything in our business/ area of the bigger business, uniform and consistent, and then develop the team to run those systems.

Many people I speak to can see the benefits of a systemised business. ‘Look at McDonald’s; look at Amazon,’ they say, ‘every really successful business is systemised…absolutely…there’s no getting away from it.’

But when it comes down to their own business you can see them beginning to come out in a rash. The thought of systemising their business is just too overwhelming…

’I don’t have time’

‘I can’t afford it’

‘Systems are just a luxury’ – I’ve heard them all.

The reality is that we all already have systems in our business; we all do things! But if the way we do things is not simple, logical and repeatable then we are wasting time and money and not achieving what every customer (and every business owner) wants – consistency! We’re spending time checking, correcting, complaining…working in our business not on it.

What I’m saying is that we have a choice. Either:

Do things haphazardly – with each team member doing things their way, reinventing the wheel every time a task is done, little being done the way you want it to be, or

Do things, do every task in your business, in a simple logical repeatable way

For me it’s a no brainer.

The question is not, ‘Can I afford to systemise my business?’ but ‘Can I afford not to?’

And the reality is, it’s really not the huge, overwhelming, expensive task you think it is.

You decide you’re going to do it, you start small – with your most routine, every day tasks – and you ask yourself:

‘Is this task simple?’ Could anyone walking in off the street, (if it’s a basic task), or with the necessary technical knowledge (if it’s a specialist task) follow the steps to complete it?

‘Is this task logical?’ Does the way we do it make sense? Can I answer the question, ‘why do you do it this way?’

‘Is this task repeatable?’ Can it be done in the same way every time? Can I train people to do it this way?

A system is simply a uniform and consistent way of doing things that makes your life easier. They only exist to make life easier. If a system doesn’t make life easier – for you, your team, or your customer – then it’s the wrong system.

There aren’t five different ways to cook fries at McDonald’s; there is one way. There aren’t seven different ways to open up the restaurant and get everything set up for the day, there is one way. A team member at McDonald’s can’t decide that they want to prepare a Big Mac their way, there is one way to build a Big Mac, and everyone does it that way, every time, no exceptions.

Everybody at McDonald’s at every level, knows ‘the way we do things around here’ and everything that is done, is simple, logical and repeatable.

Contrary to what they might tell you, McDonald’s franchisees have a great life – they have freedom to choose when they’ll work and when they won’t – when they’ll go to the golf course, or on holiday, or simply stay in bed. They have that freedom because their business has systems, because everybody that works in their business knows exactly the way things work, because they can trust their team to perform consistently every single day.

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