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When Processes Are No Longer Optional

By Amy Kinnaird

It’s Monday morning and you have everything all lined up for the week. Ah! What a good feeling. You sit down at your desk at 7:45am with your second cup of coffee…and by 9am, everything you had planned to do has changed. The phone is ringing off the hook and your email has blown up. You’ve gone into react mode and now have to put out all of the fires.

You’re working deep into the day to day operations. Darn it. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

Sound familiar? Now picture a business that feels like it runs itself. Your time is freed up to work ON your business instead of always IN it. Imagine what it would feel like to go home on time with the assurance that things are running like clockwork. Why, there would be dinner with the family, going to your child’s soccer game, taking the dog to the dog park while it’s still light outside, or even taking a day off to go to the hunting camp or on vacation… imagine.

What started as a perfectly planned week went **kablooey** in no time. Why? Your processes are broken. (Wait. What? You don’t have processes?) You may have gotten some messages from customers that sound like this:

  • “We just received your widget and everything we need wasn’t included in the order.”
  • “Why is our order taking so long?”
  • “You delivered the wrong thing.”

Ugh. Look at all of the rework.

And people in your office may be saying,

  • “How do I do the “xyz procedure?”
  • “We’re out of control here.”
  • “Wow. Another customer complaint.”
  • “Why are sales down?”

As one of my clients puts it, “The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

When your days and weeks are like that, you’re overdue to create processes. Get out of crisis mode and take back control.

If you listen carefully to your customers and watch what your employees are doing (or not doing,) you’ll see where things don’t run smoothly enough. You already know where there are some broken or inefficient processes. That’s a good place to start. Create a list of jobs that need to be systematized and start documenting. Here are some to begin with: how to handle customer inquiries, setting up a new client, doing the billing, your A/R process, how to do your social media… and these are just a few. Everything in your business that you do more than once can and should have a process set up for it.

Are you an organization that doesn’t have a way to easily back fill when someone is out sick or on vacation? Or heaven forbid that somebody leaves! The time and effort required to bring in a new person and get them up to speed is daunting. How lovely it would be to just go to your operations manual and pull out all of the process pages for a position and hand them off to someone starting to work for you. A well documented process should leave little question as to how to do the job and what is expected of an employee.

Many companies are in a growth mode. That’s fantastic, but unless you have your procedures in place, you’ll struggle being able to scale easily. Without solid documented procedures, you may find it hard to keep everything going smoothly as your sales increase, you have more installations to schedule and do, more customers to take care of and all of the paperwork in your office starts piling up. Customer service often suffers, which is reflected in your revenue and profit.

It’s past time to get serious about processes! Create your operations manual or even just a series of checklists for different jobs and tasks in your organization. Yes, you could do this yourself, but it does require time and effort. (There’s a process for creating processes!)

Let’s Get Started: For jobs that are more sequential in nature, like invoicing, sending proposals or shipping, a Word doc with each step in the process written down may be sufficient. Keep it simple to follow. It’s just a 1-2-3 list.

Once your list is created, hand it off to someone who is not familiar with that task. Let them try doing that job only by following what is written down. Edit on the fly to add in things that have been overlooked or to better explain something that isn’t clear.

One of my clients has 5 sales people. We discovered that their customers had completely different experiences and outcomes depending on which sales person was working with them. Customer service varied wildly. There were errors, omissions and plenty of lost sales. The proposal process became a bottleneck with so much back and forth with the sales team, or frankly, they often just guessed what was meant. Well, you know that led to rework or just eating the difference, thereby reducing profit. (Hello? Broken Processes!)

The whole experience for the customer took too long. How do you think that affected referrals? Yep – not so well. Prospects came in the door, made it to the proposal stage, then walked away because the process was so inefficient and took too long. That’s a big hit to the bottom line! They were at the point where processes were no longer optional.

Creating checklists for the sales team and documenting all of the processes shortened the response time. The end result? More sales and ultimately more profit. Lesson learned? When everyone is left to recreate their own wheel all of the time, stuff happens.

Let’s review: The reason you want to have solid, documented processes in place is to save time, money and effort which improves the bottom line. Work is done consistently and the customer and employee experience is better. Last, but not least, you get your life back!

Amy Kinnaird is one of Louisiana’s most respected C-Level business strategists, specializing in helping leaders and staff become more productive resulting in a more lucrative workplace.