going to work on some systems this weekend…
Do you remember that feeling, just before your holiday when you could finally breathe a sigh of relief? It’s that moment when you tie up loose ends, clear your desk and set your email and phone reminders. All you have in front of you is a clear head with a crystal clear image of your destination getaway.
In North America, few people take time off and when they do, it often takes several days to decompress and really feel like they are on holiday. According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, only 57% of U.S. workers use up all of the days they’re entitled to, compared with 89% of workers in France. A running joke in many companies, among professionals is that a vacation just means you work from somewhere else. Most people take one or two days off at a time and lose part of their vacation every year. While many say this is necessary in a tough economy, it has been the norm for many years in good and bad times. The situation must be nearing an epidemic when an initiative like “Take Back Your Time” is started in North America to challenge overwork, overscheduling and a general lack of time. The event is scheduled for October 24, 2011.
Ask yourself, as a business owner, if you can relate to the following passage?
“Up until six months ago, I was rushing through life in high gear. I was always tense, never relaxed. I arrived home from work every night worried and exhausted from nervous fatigue. I would get up fast in the morning, eat fast, shave fast, dress fast, and drive to work as if I were afraid the steering wheel would fly out the window if I didn’t have a death grip on it. I worked fast, hurried home, and at night I even tried to sleep fast. I was in such a state that I went to see a famous nerve specialist. He told me to relax.”
Sadly, this time poverty mentality is nothing new, as evidence from Dale Carnegie’s 1948 classic, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. Many business owners declare war on time and are quick to buy time management systems and attend self-help courses in an effort to reclaim their productivity and life. Unfortunately, they were never told about two secrets to freeing up time to work on their businesses and live more fulfilled lives.
Secret #1: Before you can apply time management, you first need to have time.
If your business is all consuming, you won’t have the time to do anything else, except run the business. If you are always putting out fires, then as the saying goes, you can’t “see the forest for the trees” anymore. This vacuum of limited time cannot be managed because it is not only a temporal force, but in fact, similar to a black hole, sucking time away from other healthy activities like sleep, exercise, relaxation, leisure and other social activities. In order to be a more effective creative problem solver in our everyday life, the mind and body requires an equilibrium or balance of activity.
Two shortcomings that cause business owners and people in general to experience extreme time poverty are:
In part 1 of this article, I will cover the first shortcoming.
W. Edwards Deming, known as the father of continuous improvement, stated:
“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing”.
Taken further, you will never be in a position to train your employees to take over roles and scale your operation to become a world-class business
While Deming is regarded as having had more impact upon Japanese manufacturing and business processes than any other individual of non-Japanese heritage, his teachings and philosophy are highly applicable to all aspects of any small business. This includes trivial tasks that range from how your receptionist answers the phone to the precise sets of steps that occur when a client enters the office ensuring a positive memorable experience.
Business systems take on a linear form and can be defined as a process map, which can be visually described and improved. Business process mapping allows you to break down all processes in your business into identifiable systems, which can be refined, improved and scaled. According to Deming, “the first step in gaining control over an organization is to know and understand the basic processes”. Gradually, they become the bedrock and engine that powers business growth by tweaking and adjusting accordingly, in order to achieve peak performance at every point.
Training Process Example in a Small Business
Using a typical example, in a small business, the training process might consist of a senior employee mentoring new employees by teaching them how things are done. The mentor puts his or her own stamp on the “way we do things here”. This often includes inherent limitations in competency, personal bias, misinterpretation and misperceptions. The business owner often mistakenly grants complete autonomy to the senior employee, resulting in a likely scenario, where the trainee is scolded for being wrong and not doing it the right way. Furthermore, every new recruit takes the time of two employees, increasing overall training costs.
Now, compare this to a business, with well-defined systems with a clearly written and easy to understand manual. A new employee can easily understand the system and learn at their own pace, reviewing the process repeatedly until they become highly competent in each task. The manager is then able to spend a small amount of time, offering specific advice and guidance, communicating in a manner that fills any performance gaps. Developing robust business systems reduces training time not to mention the valuable time of more senior employees. It also allows a business to scale without proportionally incrementing one’s investment in time and capital.
Creating systems allows for greater consistency and reliability, giving employees the confidence and time to render a similar level of service that can be measured through customer satisfaction. If something is broken or not working properly, it is easy to pinpoint the problem and troubleshoot when a blueprint exists about all business processes. In doing so, employees are well positioned to enchant customers in delightful and unexpected ways that leaves them feeling satisfied again and again. Guy Kawasaki, in his recent book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions says:
“Enchantment is the process of delighting people with a product, service, organization, or idea. Enchantment leads to voluntary and long-lasting support that is mutually beneficial.”
Indeed, establishing business processes is the first secret to freeing up your time, growing your business and having more time for other joys in your life. The final word goes to Deming, who describes a fundamental benefit for having business systems in place that most recognize but few fail to implement properly as a key secret to any thriving business.
”Profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your project or service, and that bring friends with them.” - W. Edwards Deming
In Part 2, I will describe the second secret a business owner can put into a place to liberate their time and life.
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