Implement Your Systems
Theory is great, but you won’t know how well your new systems work until you put them into practice. For this to happen, your people must understand and use your systems on a regular basis. Sometimes this will simply be a matter of explaining a new set of procedures. However, often your new systems will be too complicated for such a simple approach. In these cases, you'll need to break each system down into manageable sections, and train your employees on them one section at a time.
Following are a series of ideas to help you implement new systems into your business:
Introduce your system as a whole and explain its purpose. This gives your people an understanding of where you are headed before they really get started. Be sure to get written confirmation that people have read the system.
Break it down into manageable, logical sections and teach them one section at a time. If you ask people to digest too much information in one sitting they'll forget what they have learned. If possible, implement the system one section at a time as well. We learn much better by doing rather than observing.
As you go, continue to ask for feedback and test their progress. Training must not be a one-way process. It would be presumptuous to assume that your training program was effective without a method of tracking your results. Find out what your employees are thinking and how much they're learning.
Whenever possible, provide point-form “quick tips.” Your employees can refer to them while they're still learning the new system.
Once you have trained all of the sections separately, review the system as a whole. Your employees now understand the system in detail and are in a much better position to provide useful feedback on its design. You’ll want them to work with the system for a period of time before entertaining any significant changes, but their feedback will still be extremely valuable. Reviewing the system will help you reinforce its strategic purpose as well.
People require practice and ongoing feedback when learning something new. In order to facilitate the integration of a new system into your business, assign someone to provide ongoing training and/or coaching until the “kinks have been worked out.”
To remain competitive your business must be in a constant state of development. Your Business Systems must continuously improve to keep pace with your environment, your product evolution and, ultimately, your growth. But this can only happen if your Business Systems can be upgraded without your involvement. As your business grows, you won’t have time to personally monitor the development of all your systems.
The solution is to design systems that allow employees to report on or even fix problems as they arise. If an employee has an idea for upgrading a process that will directly affect only them, there should be a system in place that allows them to do it with minimum red tape. If their idea will directly affect others in the business, the manager of those directly affected should approve it. You can even set up a system that rewards employees for their ideas. Ultimately, you should only need to be regularly involved in systems that have company-wide implications.
Of course there has to be a way of measuring the effectiveness of these changes so you can keep the ideas that work and discard those that don’t.
When an employee has a suggestion for upgrading a system, acknowledge his or her input whether you use it or not. The more you reward this kind of behaviour, the more it will show up. Eventually, your system’s growth must be driven by those who use it, but this will never happen if people feel that their ideas are not taken seriously.
For many people change is hard to handle, so when you redesign the way an employee does his or her job, you may experience a certain amount of resistance. However, as continuous improvement is an essential attribute of systems development, change is inevitable and must become part of the culture of any healthy business.
To turn the process of change into a positive experience for your employees, consider the following:
Change becomes permanent through socialization. This means that while you can initiate change through training, if it's to last, it must eventually become a group effort. Nurture a “change culture” and you will cultivate a “change-friendly environment.”
Involve employees in the process of change. Ideally, your employees will take leading roles in the development of the systems they will use, but if this is not possible they should still be involved in the process. Ask for their ideas and be sure to use the best of them, after all, they're the ones actually doing the work.
Time your changes carefully. Making significant changes in the middle of a large project, for example, may create more work and stress than if they were made once the project was completed. By considering the timing of changes, you smooth out the transition process considerably.
Teach employees the benefits of change. Positive changes are good for everybody. This includes your customers, your suppliers, your business as a whole, and of course your employees. If the benefits of change are made clear to your employees they'll be much more receptive to the process of change.
Encourage employees to initiate change by coming up with new ideas of their own. Once systems are in place, your employees must become responsible for improving them. They work directly with the systems on a regular basis, and consequently are in an ideal position to do this.
“People do not change easily or all at once. Most of us need a chance to try out new ways and to become familiar with new procedures.”
When Something Goes Wrong
In spite of your carefully planned systems, things will occasionally go wrong. The customer will be kept waiting, the wrong person will be hired, or the wrong supplies will be purchased.
When this happens, emergency measures will need to be taken to correct the mistake, but if you stop there, you haven’t really solved the problem. You’ve simply taken care of the symptom.
To truly solve the problem, you’ve got to identify its source. Then you can create a new system or modify it to keep it from happening again.
“A problem that is located and identified is already half solved.”
Ask “Why,” “Why”, and “Why?”
To find the source of a business problem, you may need to go a few layers deep. The repeating “why” method is a great way to do this. Studies have shown that it takes at least 5 questions to get to the root of a typical problem.
Below is an example:
If your delivery to an important customer arrives late, find out why.
- It was sent late. Why?
- It wasn’t ready on time. Why?
- It was assembled late. Why?
- You did not have sufficient parts on hand when the order was placed. Why?
- Your purchaser waits until inventory is low and then buys in large quantities to take advantage of discounts. Why?
- He is mandated to do so. Why?
- The purchasing system does not take rush orders into account.
Now that you have found the source of the problem, is there a system in place to take care of it? If not, design a system to permanently solve the problem.
If so, does everyone involved actually use the system?
If so, is this a special case, not covered by the system? Are there weaknesses in the system that allow for errors?
If not, has the employee been properly trained? Does the employee have the capacity or necessary skills to operate the system properly?
In the example of our late delivery, perhaps a system that maintained minimum inventory level would solve the problem.
Identify a business problem and work it through to a systems-based solution. Your goal is for you and your employees to automatically look for permanent solutions to any problems that arise, rather than simply alleviate the symptoms.
- Identify a nagging business problem.
- Use 5 "Whys" to identify its source.
- Find a systems-based solution.