ISO Show

Episode 4 – Systemising your business


Can you work for an hour without getting interrupted to answer a question? Either by an employee, a client or a phone call from someone else (who you don’t particularly need to speak to).

If not, it sounds like it could be time for you to consider systemising your business.  If it’s difficult for you to try to complete a task without interruptions, then just think what it will be like for others in your organisation? Interruptions usually happen because people are asking you questions that they don’t have the answers to or need something from you such as authorisation for something.  They do this because they don’t have clear instructions to follow or access to the information they need and are not fully empowered to take responsibilities for their own processes.

There needs to be a system in place to instruct employees in EVERY aspect of how you run your business.  This system is the blueprint to your business operations – it’s your unique way of working; from an enquiry coming into the business through to billing and client feedback.

In the ISO Show Podcast ‘How to systemise your business’, I’ll give you an example of a company that doesn’t have a process for new enquiries and one that does, and the difference this makes.

In the words of Deming, the continual improvement visionary ‘If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing’.

So where do you begin with systemising your business? How do you transform from a reactive business that is constantly firefighting to a proactive business that can focus on productivity and profitability?

Many organisations use ISO 9001 as a starting point to find out where their gaps are – risk and opportunities.  However, if an ISO standard isn’t on your agenda yet, I’d like to share with you some tips to get started on systemising your business.  It all begins by identifying the BIGGEST, MOST EXPENSIVE AND DISTRACTING PROBLEMS IN YOUR BUSINESS.  Start by listing all the issues that your company has faced in the last month; incorrect orders, re-work, staff errors.

The idea is to get an accurate view of the things that waste time and hurt your business, either through financial or reputational damage.  If you would like to get others involved i.e. heads of departments, you can ask them to do this exercise retrospectively, or they could record all the issues that occur over a one-month period. You can then review and highlight the ones that waste time and/or money.

The next thing you need to do is simply ask the question ‘why?’  By asking this question you are trying to get to the root cause of the problem. 

Issue: No paper for the printer to print invoices at the beginning of the day.

Why? We’ve been using up the paper over the last few days.

Why? Because we use paper daily, everyone takes it for granted that it’s there. Nobody thought to restock it.

Why? Because the boss normally does it and he’s not here.

Why does only he do it? He always places the order, it’s the way things have always been done.

Why? Because he doesn’t think anybody else can do it properly.

Why? Because nobody’s been shown how to do it, and he knows how much we might use.

Why? Because there is no minimum stock level to trigger an order.

Why do you need to use paper for invoices? We don’t! it’s just the way we’ve always done it. I guess we could email them a copy to avoid using paper and save postage costs.

I’ve just asked ‘Why?’ 8 times. This allowed me to get to the crux of the problem and to rethink the way things have always been done.  But not only that, by asking ‘Why?’ a few more times, we’ve actually found a solution to prevent the issue from reoccurring and to save the business time and money.

Just because things have always been done the same way, doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do things now or in the future.  Now, you may need to ask the question ‘Why?’ a few times, it doesn’t really matter, so long as you get to a point where you have an actionable result and you can systemise it.

I think sometimes, when things go wrong in a business, the natural thing is for people to ask ‘Who?

Asking ‘Who?’ makes people automatically defensive and doesn’t necessarily help in solving the problem. A better approach could be, ‘Hey, I’ve noticed we’ve had 7 returns this week – do we know why this has happened and what the possible solution is?’ or ‘I’ve noticed that the risk assessments for 3 sites were not completed last month – do we know why? and how we can prevent that from reoccurring next month?’

One of the myths around ISO Standards is that a large number of wordy procedures are required to implement a compliant management system.  So, I’d just like to bust that myth by saying you don’t, you can systemise your business in the way that you see fit!  For example, you can have checklists, screen shots of how to follow a process i.e. stock inventory, or a flow-chart.  You can use video, operations manuals – it is entirely up to you.  But the main thing is to make sure that everyone is involved, and that the key process owners have a say, as they will own the process at the end of the day, and they will be empowered to take responsibility for following them and keeping them up-to-date as the business evolves.

Now, successfully implementing systems into your business isn’t something you will achieve overnight.  Your staff will need to understand and follow the system, and there will be times that they will want to avoid using them if there is a short-cut.  This is where strong leadership comes into play.  A strong leader will offer encouragement when employees are struggling …and discipline if they can’t be arsed.  You will also need to be a role model and always use the system yourself.  If you don’t follow your own company procedures, then others will think that it’s ok for them to do the same. 

If you want assistance with using ISO Standards to systemise your business, contact us.

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