Get The Most From Your Systems
Productive, efficient operations are run on systems. Whether you are a business, a non-profit, or a family, systems bring order to chaos. They turn individual tasks into processes that can be duplicated and scaled.
That said, not all systems are created equal. Not all systems cooperate with each other, and not all systems will work in your business. One of the most popular services we offer at Venture Studios is our systems analysis. It sounds high-tech, but in reality, we look at how work gets done in your business, and identify conflicts. redundancies, and gaps. I have no way to calculate how much productivity is lost in those three buckets.
What Are your Systems?
So, where are your business’s systems?
When I talk about systems, most people think of software for:
- Billing and invoicing
- Accounting and payroll
- Project management
- Human resource management
- Enterprise resource planning
- Work-In-Progress planning
- Inventory control
- Customer Relationship Managers
- Web development
But that doesn’t consider your machine-based and human-based systems. Assembly lines, packing and shipping processes, phone networks, delivery processes, and teams of all kinds are also systems. Each type of system requires some form of optimization. We’ll get into human systems in a bit. But for now, I want to focus on simplifying your systems.
One way I like to encourage my clients to simplify is to find one tool that performs as many functions as possible. For instance, if you can do your invoicing, credit card processing, and customer account management all in the same software, we can call that a win over using three different programs. If you can use the same tool to schedule all your marketing without overcomplicating things, that’s even better. Payroll and inventory? Now you’re talking!
If you work with independent contractors, like I do, you will want to find a tool that will link your Accounts Payable to your project management tools, time tracker, and calendar, so your people get paid! The problem is that no one tool does everything your business needs (unless you’re able to spend six figures on a customized program). Even if it did, the learning curve for your team could be astronomical. So, there’s a balance to be had.
The power of tools like Zapier is the way they can integrate the code from one program into the code of another so that they speak the same language without errors. You don’t even have to be a “techy” person to make it work.
A simple example is my website. I like to run about 99% of my tools and operations (including my CRM, ERP and accounting) through my website. That centralizes all my activity, measurement (you can’t manage what you don’t measure) and customer experience in one place. As the tools improve over time, I get closer to that desired outcome.
One Dark Day
You may remember a few years ago when a major US retailer had a massive data breach at the peak of the holiday shopping season. They had tried to save money by cobbling together separate systems for Point of Sale, inventory management, credit card processing, to name a few. What resulted was a leaky boat that was easy for thieves to break into. It left that retailer with egg on their face and caused a major wake-up call to customer confidence.
Again, it’s important to state that no one system does everything. But it brings up an important consideration when we talk about software. Technology is only as good as the humans who are interfacing with it. There is so much you can say about this, but I’ll summarize it in a couple of points:
- Your team must have buy-in and actually use the system. The more complex the system, the greater the training expense, and the greater the room for mistakes. If you haven’t sold your team, they will not use it effectively.
- It must be simple. If your software can’t be mastered by a teenager, it’s going to create more problems than it solves. I work with software engineers all the time; they have to keep this mantra in front of them or they will build software for each other. Sorry to say, that will leave out most of the end users.
- The solution has to take a comprehensive view. The problem with the big box retailer is likely that they built it in stages as technology developed, leaving gaps between systems. I call it “putting band-aids on bullet holes.” A smart system developer looks for those gaps in the context of how business moves through the system. Retail has very different needs from corporate consulting and manufacturing, so you have to know the arena you’re playing in.
Build for where you are headed, not for where you are, or you will always be playing catchup as the market and technology change.
Back around 2000, if you got an order on your website, you likely:
- Printed out the order
- Noted the name and address
- Gathered the product inventory
- Boxed it all up
- Printed out a label and a packing slip
- Carried it to the post office
- Waited seven to ten days to make sure the customer received it and was happy with it.
If they weren’t happy with the product, they might send it back, which would trigger a whole new system through shipping, inventory, and accounting. At the end of that period, you might even be losing money on the transaction.
Automation and the speed of shipping has changed all of that. Where will it go next? Are you ready for the new reality? Your customer is expecting instant gratification and the Amazon customer experience. Can you deliver? Are you tracking all of your customers’ contact information and social media platforms? Is your team tailoring ads to your customers’ online interactions?
If you listen to our podcast, “Messes To Successes,” this week’s episode includes more noodling about the future of systems in business.
Are We Approaching The End of Human Systems?
A few years ago, McDonalds restaurants confronted the push for a $15 minimum wage with a bold step toward touch-screen ordering kiosks. The technology exists for McDonald’s to eliminate humans entirely from their systems. Are we ready for 3-D printed burgers?
With all this talk of advancing artificial intelligence, can we conclude that humans are being phased out of the work system? But the opposite is true. As long as humans do business with other humans, the personal touch of human interaction will be a differentiator. People skills are going to set companies apart from their chat-bot peers. The hand-written thank you note will move from “old-fashioned relic” to “the reason people like doing business with us.” Humans will always need connections with other people, whether it’s a Zoom call or a friendly checkout clerk.
People Like To Deal With People…Sometimes
Eventually, the pendulum has to swing back to human interaction. I imagine people will eventually pay a premium to work with a human. We are already seeing it in industries. Do you remember when the first automated phone systems came out (“Press 1 for English…”)? There was so much resistance to that, but people grew to accept it as the new normal. Now, customers are showing that they are willing to pay a little extra for human interaction. For all the added efficiencies of an automated system, getting caught in an endless phone menu loop, where the option you want doesn’t exist or doesn’t work, is deeply frustrating. Press “zero” until you get back to a human.
With the growth of online systems that seek to eliminate human interaction, human psychology will eventually stop the progress. There are certain things people won’t easily do without talking to another person. Even ClickFunnels acknowledges that most people won’t make a four-figure purchase (or more) without talking to someone first. High ticket sales require human interaction. ClickFunnels is adequate for certain levels of sales, but not all of them.
How To Get A Systems Expert Working For You
One of our services at Venture Studios is “Executive For Hire.” In that program, we make a team of executives available to you for a period of time, to help you execute on a new initiative, reorganize a silo of your business, or just provide a new leadership voice. Part of that offering is a CTO, or Chief Technology Officer, who will provide the kind of top-to-bottom system audit we talked about earlier. The program includes a roadmap to implementation that will optimize all the systems, subscriptions, software, and operators. Then they will carry it out.
People tend to think of C-level executives as old men in suits in glass towers. The truth is, even small businesses can benefit from working with strategic-thinking executives. Some of the most fun conversations we have are with small companies that are right on the cusp of growing to the next level. They just need to spend some time with someone who has experience and perspective at the level they want to reach. We can make that happen. Click here to find my calendar; let’s set up a conversation to see if that’s the right next step for you.
In the meantime, be sure to join us on Facebook or LinkedIn, and subscribe to our “Messes To Successes” podcast wherever you like to get podcasts. I look forward to visiting with you soon.