How to Scale & Grow Your Business Through a Culture of Processes
Any startup founder or small business owner that has read Michael Gerber’s book The E-Myth Revisited will be familiar with the concept of working on your business vs working in your business. The former means planning out high-level strategy, determining growth objectives, and goal-setting, while the latter usually consists of running day-to-day operations, putting out fires, and delivering whatever product or service you offer.
Most startups and small businesses fail to grow because their managers spend too much time working in the business as opposed to working on the business.
Yet, ask manager currently drowning in tasks, and they’d agree that they’d love to work on their business more, but it’s a luxury they don’t have because of everything else on their plate.
The Power of Systems and Processes
While finding time to work on their business, rather than in their business, is a challenge every business owner has to overcome, those that have found the ability to do so rely on the power of systems and processes to get there.
The gap in between where your business is, and where you want it to be, is always created by the absence of systems, according to Michael Gerber. By developing and codifying the processes, routines, and the systems you follow to work in your business, you can create capacity for yourself to work on your business.
If habits are actions that you take on a repeated basis with little or no required effort in your personal life, think of processes as their workplace equivalent. The best businesses document their day-to-day how-tos: how to help a customer, how to onboard a new employee, how to run a weekly meeting, etc. Doing this has multiple benefits:
- Growth becomes more sustainable, as success is not reliant on the knowledge of any one employee
- After getting their expertise “out of their brain and onto paper”, managers have greater mental capacity to tackle higher-level business problems
- All employees feel empowered, as they can be leaned on to complete tasks outside their department or area of expertise
Of course, the easy part in this process is agreeing it should be done. The much harder part is actually building a culture of developing systems and processes for your business. Below, I’ve unpacked the small changes business owners can begin to take today that will create a habit of documenting and sharing systems and processes in their organization, allowing them to go from working in the business, to working on it.
Make everything reusable
When we were building KnowHow, we met with hundreds of managers who shared with us a very similar refrain: “I’m tired of saying the same thing over and over again!”
An employee would forget where to find a certain document, so their manager would e-mail them instructions on how to find it. Then a month later, that same employee couldn’t find the e-mail instructions in their inbox, so the manager would describe the process on Slack. 2 weeks later: lather, rinse, repeat.
The best way to develop a culture of building systems for your business is to respond to requests as they come up, but ensure the answer you’re giving is in an evergreen format: it can be housed in a central storage place where employees can access and re-access them.
Think of this as a reusable water bottle instead of a single-use plastic. By taking the time to save it somewhere centrally accessible (we recommend KnowHow 😊), you solve your problem not only today, but tomorrow as well.
Empower your team to become teachers
Organizations suffer when single individuals hold all the knowledge necessary to complete a task or function. Not only is this incredibly risky (what if that individual falls ill, or realizes how valuable they are to the success of your company and begins to use it as leverage?), it creates bottlenecks up and down the organization.
However, you can use your employees’ expertise as an advantage by framing them as teachers, instead of mere knowledge-holders. Using a system such as KnowHow, you can empower team members to claim ownership of subjects and processes, and document their expertise to be accessed and utilized by others. By exalting them as the domain experts they are, you give them the opportunity to wield their knowledge for the organization’s benefit, contributing to the systems and processes they use on a regular basis to your company’s collective know-how. As a bonus, having them take ownership of the solution (your organization with a fully-fleshed out internal knowledge and process hub) increases the likelihood they will champion its use to other team members in your org.
In my experience, once your 70% of your organization has adopted a tool (such as Slack, Sharepoint, Dropbox, or anything else), onboarding the rest of the team becomes quite easy. Lagging staff quickly realize they are missing out on conversations and resources because they are late to adopt the tool into their workflow.
However, getting to that 70% threshold is tough, and relies on a combination of:
- Old-fashioned top-down role modelling
- Internal champions
If you can find a few team members that believe in the value of documented systems and processes, they will lead your “bottoms-up” initiative, but you will still need to be disciplined in modelling this to the rest of the team. After all, the best systems are the ones staff actually use, and if you can demonstrate that it is just in your company’s DNA to document and share processes with each other, it will soon begin to influence your staff’s activities as well.
Creating a culture of taking the expertise of individuals out of their brain and moving it onto paper will pay dividends for years to come, but it is hard work that requires discipline, dedication, and buy-in at the team level.
By focusing your efforts on creating resources that are evergreen, empowering employees to do the same, and putting in the energy to ensure the whole team sees the value and creates a habit of doing so, you will be able to free up the time for both you and your employees to shift your attention from working in your business, to working on your business.