The Systems Thinker Blog

What is a Process Improvement Manager and Why You Need One?

Posted byRon Carroll

It is essential that someone in your company is responsible for sales. Somebody needs to do the accounting or bookkeeping. Someone oversees hiring, customer service, and order fulfillment. No matter what industry you are in, or the size of company you have, YOU—or assigned employees—perform these and other basic business functions.

However, there is one essential job position that is rarely talked about and almost always ignored by entrepreneurs and small-business owners.

Laura’s Bad Experience

Consider this email—and cry for help—I received from a frustrated newsletter subscriber. Laura was the only person in her company to recognize this rarely thought about but important job responsibility. Could she be one of your employees?

Help is Needed for Bad Business Processes

Laura wrote:

“I can't take it anymore! Chaos, pure unadulterated chaos. You could imagine myself (with the personality of a dragon) sitting down to convince owners we have to sort out all the tasks that people do into a logical workflow!  So I created a Business Systems Department with the understanding they would know what it meant... uhmmmm no. I thought I was absolutely alone in the world until my assistant found your web site. Ahhhhh ...  there are people out there that actually think the way I do! I work for a company that is in denial. I want to work for a company that believes in having good systems. 

“I am honestly tired of trying to convince this company that they should invest in their Business Systems, Best Practices, etc. If chaos is not enough to make them reconsider, if poor employee morale is not enough to make them reconsider... Well, you can quote me as a crazy lady who thought she could make a difference and become an asset to the company because I love this crazy world of Business Systems thinking... Anyhow, sorry for the long winded email but BOY that felt good to get it off my chest!” (This was about 25% of the actual email.)

The Invisible Job

Whether you have thought about it or not, your entire business operation is carried out with the help of systems and processes that come about formally or haphazardly through the years. These business systems are the way in which work gets done, and they are the building blocks of your organization. Their effectiveness determines your profitability and success.

Your systems and processes might include lead generation, sales conversion, production, order fulfillment, customer service, accounting, purchasing, hiring, and many others unique to your company.

So, what is a business system or process? Consider this down-to-earth definition:

A business system is a “recipe” for consistently getting a predetermined and desired result. The ingredients of a good business recipe may include materials, people, data, forms, checklists, tools, equipment, software, and so forth. The precisely followed step-by-step instructions, or procedure, ensure that the expected result is achieved every single time.  Great recipes for getting routine work done in an efficient and effective way increase customer loyalty, employee performance, profitability, and growth.

 Create Favorite Business Recipes

So, who in your company is responsible for developing, monitoring, and maintaining the business processes that make your company run smoothly and profitably—even when you’re not around? Who in your company understands the underlying principles for creating effective systems and processes? Who in your company wears the hat of the “Process Improvement Manager”? Is it YOU, or someone else?

Wait, What? A Process Improvement Manager?

In a small business, the owner is the first “Systems Czar” (Philip Beyer) and usually begins documenting processes so that he or she fully understands how the business operates from start to finish.

Whether it is YOU, a manager or employee (full or part-time, and not necessarily a new hire), someone in your company needs to fill the essential role of a “Process Improvement Manager.” This person’s responsibility is to maintain efficiency and quality in the workplace. They evaluate current business practices, looking for ways to improve productivity and customer service, reduce costs, and make the best use of company resources.

Specifically, the process-improvement person develops, monitors, and elevates the performance of the company’s vital business systems and processes. Ongoing system development is the key to continuous learning, growth, and improvement of individuals and organizations.

A Process Improvement Manager is something of a “business engineer.” He or she is both logical and creative, able to identify and diagnose problems and find low-cost and innovative solutions. As you implement effective systems and processes, your company will stand out in a competitive marketplace, give customers a great buying experience, and improve operational quality and efficiency for a healthy profit margin.

Become a Business Engineer

So, What Exactly Does A Process Improvement Manager Do?

1. Develop and Reinforce “Best Practices”

While most people in a company see the business operation in terms of departments, functions, and activities, the Process Improvement Manager is focused on how efficiently and effectively the work is being completed. This person sees the details beneath the surface, where dollars are earned or lost, and operational success is determined. The Process Improvement Manager has a vested interest in:

Best practices
Cause and effect
Root-cause of problems
Performance standards and goals
Measured results and data
Employee motivation, training, teamwork, and incentives
Improvement and innovation
Getting the right people in jobs
Promoting growth and development of workers
Increasing quality and efficiency of business processes
Eliminating bottlenecks, mistakes, delay and rework
Lowering costs

 Persue Best Practices

The Process Improvement Manager is always asking “WHY?”  Why do we do this task at all? Why do we do it this way? Why are things not getting done on time? Why are there excessive mistakes or rework? Why are customers or employees unhappy?  Why are we not reaching our goals?

“A relentless barrage of ‘why’s’ is the best way to pierce the clouded veil of thinking caused by the status quo. Use it often” (Shigeo Shingo, Toyota Lean Manufacturing).

The Process Improvement Manager seeks to find the best way to get the work of the organization accomplished with the highest quality and the lowest possible cost.

(“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things” — Peter Drucker, renowned business consultant and author).

2. Apply the Master Skill

"If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing" (W. Edwards Deming, Total Quality Management).

All best-practices are arrived at by refining and improving daily operations, the company’s core business systems and processes. This is the primary focus of the Process Improvement Manager. His or her mandate is to create a smooth-running and profitable organization by taking the unwanted deviation, defects, and delay out of work processes. It is to ensure that customers are happy and desired results are consistently achieved. 

W. Edwards Deming also said, “94% of all failure is a result of the system ... not people. A manager of people needs to understand … that the performance of anyone is governed largely by the system that he works in, the responsibility of management” (Total Quality Management).

 Create Effective Business Systems

Effective business processes significantly reduce sub-standard performance, wasted resources, customer dissatisfaction, employee turnover, excessive costs, weak sales growth, inadequate cash flow, low profit margins, and daily frustration.

Your ability to create and refine the vital systems and processes of your organization is what I call the “Master Skill.” All business functions—marketing, finance, and operations—fall within the scope of this single skill mastery.

Most companies have one or two exceptional business systems that separate it from the competition. What innovative and remarkable business process makes your company stand out "like a purple cow in a field of brown cows"? (Seth Godin, Purple Cow)

(“No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to [run] it. It must be organized in such a way [with effective systems and processes] as to be able to get along [with] average human beings” — Peter Drucker).

3. Recognize and Solve Problems

A two-word definition for “business” is “problem solving.” The Process Improvement Manager asks, “What problems do we need to address? What parts of our organization could improve? What obstacles do we need to overcome? What invisible termites are eating away at our customer loyalty or profit? Any core business activity that is falling short of its purpose or goals is a problem to be solved.

Business problems are usually observed up-close as mistakes, scrap or rework, delay or missed deadlines, excessive costs, and people having an unpleasant working or buying experience. Repetitive problems are made apparent by financial statements, performance reports, customer or worker feedback, and expressed complaints, frustration, or even opposing viewpoints.

Systems Thinking makes problems more transparent and solutions more obvious. A well-framed statement of the problem by the Process Improvement Manager will often provide immediate ideas for change. Data—the brutal facts—influence and direct all improvement efforts.

 Seek Ideas for Improvement

The Process Improvement Manager is always looking for the simplest and least-expensive way to solve a problem or improve a process—to take waste out of the business. Any problem-solving efforts may include prioritizing projects, budgeting for upfront costs (e.g., a new piece of equipment), and determining the ongoing operational costs of the new or improved system. It is often helpful to calculate the return on investment (ROI) by completing a cost-benefit analysis.

The Process Improvement Manager chooses the system-improvement projects that are the easiest to implement, or have the greatest financial impact, or that support company goals, or that will remove a weak-link, bottleneck, or frustration from business operations. They target a completion date and get buy-in, authorization, and financial support of decision makers before beginning a project. Focus plus prioritization equal fast results.

Care must also be taken when deploying any new system or process and training the people involved. Good preparation will reduce resistance to change. Workers who do not recognize the better way of doing things will produce a new set of problems.

(“If you want something good, you have to stop doing something bad” — Peter Drucker).

4. Encourage Learning and Growth in People

The best Process Improvement Managers are constantly learning, and they promote learning and growth in others. Whether by experience, mentors, books, performance reports, or feedback from customers or workers, they are always looking for clues, evidence, data, ideas, and strategies to get work done in a more efficient and effective way. They continually seek excellence in business operations.

Although change is constant, the Process Improvement Manager always has an eye fixed on the long-term mission and goals of the organization.

 Inspire Learning and Growth

Knowledge is fleeting unless it is incorporated into behavior, into “best practices.” It is said that knowledge is power, but the real power to improve a business only comes when knowledge is applied to a specific system or process. The Process Improvement Manager tinkers with the procedure or the system components until the people and the process are getting acceptable results. Patience and persistence through obstacles and challenges yield a big payoff.

While workers do the “cooking and serving," the Process Improvement Manager’s job is to step back, study, ponder, analyze, evaluate, plan, test, and keep improving the company’s unique and valuable business “recipes.”

(“The purpose of information is not knowledge. It is being able to take the right action” — Peter Drucker).

5. Hold Business Improvement Workshops                 

The Process Improvement Manager is on the move, working with others to elevate business operations. He or she does not try to solve every problem independently, but to become immersed in business processes, observe what is working and what is not, learn from those who have hands-on knowledge, and consider what improvements would yield better results.

The best way to benefit from the collective wisdom and experience of those involved in day-to-day operations is to “work ON the business” (Michael Gerber, “E-Myth”) in a weekly business improvement workshop.

During this one-hour meeting, the Process Improvement Manager, team leader, or other manager guides a discussion on specific business activities, systems, processes, or policies that need improvement. They whiteboard the process and consider each step along with the components or “ingredients” required for its success (e.g., materials, tools, checklists, etc.).

Hold Business Improvement Workshops

Those attending the workshop counsel together to achieve consensus on best solutions and practices. The leader reinforces the vision, strategy and goals of the organization, and gets buy-in and support for doing things in a new and better way.

Keep in mind that deployment of a changed system or process requires careful orchestration of people, resources, and timing. It is important to get a new system off to a good start.

Every little improvement uncovered in a business improvement workshop will serve to transform your company into a smooth-running, customer-pleasing, money-making business system! One-hour a week is all it takes!

(“Most discussions or decision making assume that only senior executives make decisions or that only senior executives' decisions matter. This is a dangerous mistake” — Peter Drucker).

6. Document “the Way We Do Things Here"

I repeat W. Edwards Deming: “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.” To which Michael Gerber adds: “If it’s not in writing, it’s not a system!” (“E-Myth Revisited”).

The Process Improvement Manager oversees the documentation of core business systems and processes and keeps them updated when changes and innovation occur. His or her job is to understand and describe in writing the best way to accomplish the routine work of the organization. However, documentation must be better than just a dust-gathering operations manual.

Write Policies and Procedures

Preparing written systems and processes is the proper way to establish desirable work patterns and habits. These detailed “recipes” are of value to train new employees, and as ongoing references for experienced workers. They describe the required system components (ingredients) and the best procedure to follow.

This important “how-to” information remains constant, not haphazardly passed along by word-of-mouth or changed as people come and go from the job.

When processes are written and accessible to workers, less supervision is required. If a business is replicated or sold, documented business operations are of immense worth to those starting new.

(“Unless commitment is made [in writing], there are only promises and hopes... but no [action] plans” — (Peter Drucker).

7. Get the Right People, Leaders, and Teams

The Process Improvement Manager is not the Human-Resource Manager. However, he or she recognizes that people are the most important (and expensive) component of most business operations.

Therefore, the Process Improvement Manager is concerned with 1) how jobs are defined (job descriptions), 2) company policies that affect workers, 3) fitting the right person to the job, 4) making sure people understand their responsibilities and are properly trained, 5) establishing team leaders and teamwork for increased productivity, 6) meeting performance standards and goals, and 7) promoting accountability and work incentives. All of these items affect performance—the quality, efficiency, and cost of doing business.

Get the Right People

Though often unnoticed, workers possess a variety of experience, talent, insights, and creative ideas that are just waiting for the right opportunity to be shared. A good Process Improvement Manager cultivates relationships and is always listening for useful suggestions and bold ideas to improve business processes. They love to give credit, recognize contributions and exceptional achievement, and celebrate success. Getting thought-leaders and exemplary workers behind a new idea will encourage others to follow.

Continuous and unrelenting effort to improve systems and processes is the only way to develop excellence in people and organizations.

“Reward those who Do, Train those who Can’t, Replace those who Won’t” (Henn’s Creed). The Process Improvement Manager is interested in two major factors that affect how workers perform—Desire and Capability. They find ways to elevate both.

(“Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion, and under-performance. Everything else requires leadership. … The key [is] to … look for people's potential and spend time developing it” — Peter Drucker).

8. Speak Numbers, the Language of Improvement

“Without data, you're just another person with an opinion” (W. Edwards Deming).

The Process Improvement Manager relies heavily on data or numbers in their pursuit of truth and best practices. Their personal success is largely determined by the company’s ability to show measurable improvement of its core business activities. Numbers are the language of improvement.

However, the daily work of the Process Improvement Manager is not just to focus on outcomes, but instead to improve the behaviors and processes that lead to better outcomes or numbers.

Many operational problems are revealed in performance reports or financial statements such as the balance sheet or the profit and loss statement. These numerical indicators will point to weak or faulty business processes.

The Process Improvement Manager is interested in common business measures, including performance standards and goals, break-even points, and the key numbers that drive the success of the organization. Knowing the sometimes-dreadful facts is essential to making effective changes.

Workers also excel when they receive frequent performance feedback, and by always knowing where they stand in relation to established goals or standards. Properly viewed, numbers provide the critical foundation for all business intelligence.

Speak Numbers, the Language of Improvement

"You cannot manage what you cannot measure" (Peter Drucker). "Anything that can be measured can be improved" (Michael Dell, Dell Computers). When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates" (Thomas S. Monson, business and religious leader).

The time and effort of the Process Improvement Manager is a financial investment that must have a beneficial return. This is accomplished by focusing on the systems and processes that improve the customer experience and reduce costs (waste). The larger the company, the greater the opportunity there is for financial gains.

Before beginning any improvement project, the Process Improvement Manager determines the initial cost of implementation as well as the annual recurring costs. A preliminary analysis may include a budget, expected savings or earnings, and the estimated payback period.

Owners or managers approve new projects before proceeding and receive regular status updates, especially the good news of financial gains. Well-designed and executed business systems pay for themselves many times over.

(“Leadership is defined by results not attributes. … Checking the results of a decision against its expectations shows executives what their strengths are, where they need to improve, and where they lack knowledge or information” — Peter Drucker).

9. Never Stop Improving and Innovating

Kaizen, a Japanese term for continuous improvement, is the ongoing, systematic, incremental improvement in the way things are done. It is a relentless attempt to eliminate the unnecessary business activities, delay, waste, and variation within processes that add cost without adding value. Kaizen results in improved lead-time, efficiency, quality, productivity and customer loyalty. 

Every organization has unlimited possibilities for improvements that lead to happier customers and higher profits. The Process Improvement Manager is focused on bettering people, products and processes, turning problems into opportunities, and achieving operational excellence in a never-ending quest for perfection.

Most improvements in an organization come from ongoing innovation to its internal systems and processes (e.g., reducing errors or cycle time). Some improvements are incremental—tweaking what already works. However, breakthrough improvements can dramatically elevate the customer or worker experience and reduce operational costs in a BIG WAY.

Seek Continuous Improvement

“The goals of a Process Improvement Manager are simple: 1) make things easier 2) better 3) faster and 4) cheaper” (Shigeo Shingo, pioneer of Lean Thinking). They continually ask, “How can we do this better? How can we raise the standard?”

Daily improvement is accomplished by measuring and monitoring core business activities and providing constant feedback to workers and managers. Suggestion boxes, done the right way, and business improvement workshops (discussed above), are also sources for new ideas and input from workers.

Improvement methodologies such as Six Sigma, Lean Thinking, and the Theory of Constraints provide big-league principles and strategies for even the smallest of companies (see “Four Improvements Methods You Should Know About"). Small daily improvements—hundreds each year—are the key to extraordinary long-term results.

(“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes. … Not to innovate is the single largest reason for the decline of existing organizations” — Peter Drucker). 

10. Inspire a Culture of Excellence

The Process Improvement Manager has great influence on the culture of the business, and culture drives results more than any other factor.

Develop a Culture of Excellence

"An organization's purpose and goals set the direction. Measures focus the energy on the outcomes. Processes create habits, and habits drive the culture. You can teach skills and concepts. You can even create momentum (and a few smiles) through inspiration. But investing in skills and inspiration is a waste of money if there are not processes to reinforce your purpose and principles. The creation and continuous refinement of work processes is a mandatory practice in the Results Rule! organization, regardless of the industry" (Randy Pennington, “Results Rule!”).

The Process Improvement Manager—owner or employee—is responsible to help the company break through to a high-performance culture, a culture of discipline, a culture of excellence. This is the natural consequence of creating effective business systems and processes. There is no other way!

 (“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” — Peter Drucker).

 Nate’s Amazing Experience

Ten years ago, a young man sat quietly in one of my workshops. He was an entry-level employee of an attending customer. Little did I know how much he was paying attention, and that he caught the vision far beyond the business owner he was working for. Years later, and unexpectedly, I received an email from Nate. In part, he wrote:

"I am now working for a fortune 1,000 company and am currently in the business intelligence sector, and I am a Business Process Engineer. I go in, evaluate, look for waste, streamline processes and identify projects. I am then tasked with implementation, setting up control reports, forecasting results, and mapping out potential financial gains. I have been in the job for four months now and things are going so well they are throwing all kinds of projects at me that span many departments. I gained trust quickly and pretty much have a free rein. I have already identified over $10 million in gains from process improvements that I am putting in place.”

The Process Improvement Manager

Nate made a career of process improvement and landed a great job with a big company. However, the principles that guide his work are much the same for companies of every size. YOU CAN AND SHOULD DO THIS FOR YOUR COMPANY! As with Nate, the payoff can be quite substantial.

Laura (quoted above) and Nate, have had very different experiences in the companies they work for. All customers and employees, including yours, have similar feelings, one way or the other. Is your company organized, systemized, smooth-running, efficient, and profitable, or is it seat-of-the-pants, frustrating to do business with, and struggling to make money? Perhaps it is in between, but could it use some improvements?

Again, Who is Your "Business Systems Czar”?

The primary purpose of a Process Improvement Manager is to help engineer a remarkable business operation. This person has proven leadership and communication skills (oral and written), is a problem-solver with sound business understanding, works well with people and teams, and is performance driven.

The Process Improvement Manager spends most of their day designing, developing, overseeing, monitoring and evaluating the systems and processes that help an organization effectively find and keep customers, run an efficient and profitable operation, and differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace. 

Workers run the systems, and systems run the business. People may come and go, but the systems and processes remain constant. (see Michael Gerber, “E-Myth Revisited”). Like a fine restaurant, the key to success is developing and executing the precise and proven “recipes.”

(Oh, and by the way, the Process Improvement Manager should also document the “recipe” for their own role and improvement activities.)

Why Should People Want to Do Business with You?

Customers and employees alike want to work for or do business with the best companies. In a competitive marketplace, expectations are rising.

“Customers … are demanding from companies in many industries a radical overhaul of business processes. Intuitive interfaces, around-the-clock availability, real-time fulfillment, personalized treatment, consistency [across locations], and zero errors—this is the world to which customers have become increasingly accustomed. It’s more than a superior user [or buying] experience, however; when companies get it right, they can also offer more competitive prices because of lower costs, better operational controls, and less risk.” (Shahar Markovitch and Paul Willmott, McKinsey & Company).

So, just like sales, accounting, and customer service—essential business functions—you also need someone to develop and refine the business processes that are humming along every day in your large or small organization.

Incremental and occasionally breakthrough improvements will dramatically increase your customer loyalty, employee performance, profitability, and growth. There is no other way!

(“The best way to predict the future is to create it” — Peter Drucker).

P.S. - Download and print this article for your reference or to give your designated Process Improvement Manager. Go through the article and highlight everything your company can and should do. (Owners of small businesses will be surprised by the possibilities.) These ten principles will get you off to a great start! (Click Here to Download Printable PDF File)

The Next Step...

Tags: Business Systems, People, Improvement, Culture, Business Leader

Business Leadership: Six Ways to Increase Worker Desire and Capability

Posted byRon Carroll

Are you a leader? Do you have enough “juice” to accomplish important things through other people?

Leadership is not about who we say we are. It’s not about who we want to be. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s not about our position as owner or manager, or about the title on our business card. It’s none of these things.

“Leadership is . . . about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire team-mates and customers. . . . Leadership is to derive power . . . not from your position but from your competence, effectiveness, relationships, excellence, innovation and ethics” (Robin S. Sharma, best-selling author on leadership).

Leadership is about creating a vision, influencing attitudes and behaviors, building capability, and moving people enthusiastically toward worthy goals.

In business, it’s all about our power to develop people, products, and processes that give customers what they want, retain the best employees, produce a healthy profit, and grow a lasting enterprise.

More specifically, our role is to establish clear, compelling and frequently measured objectives, identify the vital few (see 80-20 Rule) behaviors or processes that impact those objectives, and finally, bring about the desire and capability of people to achieve those objectives.

So, how do we do that? How do we systematically create immediate, effective, and lasting change?

Consider the following six ways to elevate the desire and capability of your workforce to carry out the vital behaviors and processes of your business.

Desire and Capability

Three Ways to Increase Desire or Motivation

  1. Make it About Them – What gets you motivated? Apply the Golden Rule and provide the kind of business culture YOU would thrive in. Make work—the vital behaviors and essential processes of your operation—pleasurable, rewarding and even fun. Turn work into a game and keep score.

    Replace control with choice—even the choice to say no. Replace orders and dictates with dialog and questions. (To ask is to teach, to tell is to preach.) Replace the blaming of people with finding the root cause of negative behavior or poor performance in faulty business systems. Develop your team by giving them the freedom to fail, and the chance to learn from the things they experience.

    Compensate fairly, but remember that people work harder and even sacrifice for a cause or a vision, when they feel they are making a difference, when the mind and the heart are engaged. Focus on the personal success of your employees—learning, skill development, and career growth. (“Help thy brother’s boat across the water, and lo, thine own has reached the shore” - Scottish proverb.)

  2. Provide Social Support and Example – How do you respond to praise or criticism, acceptance or rejection, approval or disapproval? Words count, including your approval or disapproval of managers and team members. Social influence—the desire to be recognized, valued, and connected to others—has an immense persuasive power.

    Here is the best part: it only takes the presence of one capable and exemplary person on a team to significantly affect how others will act. And if that individual is willing to sacrifice personally—proving how important the task or goal is—their credibility is even greater, and others will naturally raise their game. Find your opinion leaders or exemplary workers and get them onboard with the behavior or process you are trying to implement. Remember, the power of the message is determined by the power of the messenger.

    And one more thing: when people work together, they either encourage one another, try to impress one another, or even compete with one another, all of which improve performance. Once employees hold each other accountable for following vital behaviors or business processes, you’ve got incredible social support and a motivated team.

  3. Boost Enthusiasm with Incentives – Would well-deserved incentives, rewards, or recognition get you motivated? I think so. However, incentives are effective only after you have succeeded with personal motivation and social support (the first two above). Incentives do not work if people don’t want to do the work or don’t see the value of doing it. In addition, rewards don’t improve performance very much if people already like what they are doing and are doing it well (they are self-motivated).

    Tie rewards to the desired behaviors and results you want repeated. Make sure they are given quickly, and that they are appreciated. (Christmas bonuses are not a good way to reward people; if they are smaller than previous years, negative feelings often result.)

    Keep in mind that symbolic incentives or rewards are often more important than the actual face value (e.g., Employee-of-the-Month plaque; a personal note of appreciation).

    (I once got my young children to perform chores and other work tasks during the summer months by presenting them with colorful beads at a morning recognition ceremony for accomplishments the prior day. The coveted “good-deed bead” was given for performing a kind act. This amazing and highly effective reward system came from my experience with the Boy Scouts.)

    Reward effort and small improvements, not just big successes. Recognize behaviors that support valued processes, knowing that if you reward the actual steps people follow, results take care of themselves. And be generous with praise at all stages of progress.

Three Ways to Increase Capability

  1. Build Personal Skill and Proficiency – Do your people have the ability to do what you ask? Motivational tactics—like those described above—are futile and even cause resentment if people are not capable of performing or getting the results you expect. They must have the will and the skill. Goals have to be realistic and achievable, or you are doomed from the outset.

    The repetition of behavior or processes—with frequent feedback—builds capability and confidence. Rather than focusing on results, concentrate on developing skills and creating effective business systems and processes.

    You can help people become more skillful and productive by making complex tasks simpler, breaking big processes into several smaller processes (the Box Theory™ Way), turning vague direction into clear and specific instructions, and making distasteful or boring tasks pleasant. These strategies will cause quality and efficiency to go up, and costs to go down.

    Telling people to “suck it up," and "try harder” doesn’t work. Change the process so that people will naturally do better, and success is inevitable.

  2. Create Synergy with Teamwork – Do you believe teamwork is essential in any great business endeavor? Diverse intellects, talents, experience, and capabilities often enable a group of people to work smarter and perform better than any one person within the group. Ideas and resources are shared, and workers collaborate to help one another accomplish common goals. As in sports, put each person on the team in a position where they can add the most value. For example, the higher-skilled and more expensive accountant is probably not the right person to process accounts payable.

    As mentioned earlier, when people work together and talk about how to reach goals, improve performance, and solve problems, and when they offer encouragement and hold each other accountable, just step back and smile. You’ve got an extraordinary team that will become incrementally stronger with each passing day.

    Put capable teams into first-rate business systems and processes, and you will create a culture of excellence, where people perform to their best ability even when you’re not around.

  3. Supercharge Your Business Environment with Effective Systems and Processes – Do you provide a workplace that is conducive to high-quality and efficient work? Are you more likely to find fault with people before taking a close look at the environment or process they are working in?

    It is much easier to change business processes than it is to change people. Start looking at your work layout, distance people walk, tools, machinery and equipment, clutter, distractions, unnecessary movement, complexity, downtime and start-stop workflow (system busters). Find ways to change the physical world to support the behavior you want. For example, move the printer or buy another printer so people don’t have to walk as far. Clean up your operation and get organized so it doesn’t take as long to find things (see Lean 5S).

    Don’t merely make good behavior desirable; make it certain with well-designed business systems and processes. Ordinary people put into exceptional systems will produce extraordinary results, and at a much lower cost. With Box Theory™ Software, an $8-10/hour college student can do work worth $100 per hour, and that’s no baloney!

    Look and listen. Take notice of the physical surroundings, but also listen carefully. From a factory office I once worked in, I could accurately predict the day's production level by the pace of repeated sounds made by people and equipment. When the sound of staple guns going off or the whir of a wood moulder slowed, I walked out to take a look. Because money was coming out of my pocket, I quickly noticed when there was a disruption to productivity.

    Provide visual cues, examples, checklists, quality materials and supplies, the best tools, safety guards, and so forth. Make it not only easy to do the right thing, but almost impossible to do the wrong thing (see Poka Yoke). Put people who work on the same team in close proximity. Replace employee discretion and vague procedures with clear policies and supporting business systems. Change the subtle features within your work environment that are causing misbehavior, sputtering processes, and diminished results.

You Now Have the Juice to Make It Happen

There are a lot of ideas described above to increase employee motivation and capability. Start with what makes sense for your business—what would have the greatest impact and be the easiest to implement.

Apply as many of the six major strategies above as possible, experimenting to discover what works best within each. Diagnose the root cause of your problems carefully before prescribing a remedy (see 5-Whys Analysis). Ask what process weakness or perverse incentive is causing negative behavior or barriers to success. Observe and measure the impact or your changes, learn from the results, and keep refining to make things better.

Remember: making good things happen requires personal desire and capability. Be bold. Start applying these principles today and you will soon have the “juice” to elevate your company by providing greater value to stakeholders, customers, and employees.


The Next Step...

Tags: People, Improvement, Culture

Business Improvement: Get the Right People!

Posted byRon Carroll

A business organization is a group of people brought together for the purpose of finding, serving and keeping customers. The best organizations invariably hire the best people to achieve this purpose.

In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins writes, "Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people. GET THE RIGHT PEOPLE ON THE BUS FIRST, AND THE WRONG PEOPLE OFF THE BUS, THEN FIGURE OUT WHAT DIRECTION TO DRIVE THE COMPANY."

Get the right people on the bus


Who are the right people and how do you get them?

There are essentially two types of people that most entrepreneurs will hire at some time. I would characterize them as "plow horses" and "race horses." The plow horses are the people that you can count on to follow the established systems of your business. From planting to harvesting, they perform the routine work in a consistent and remarkable way.

The race horses are the leaders and innovators who set the course the company will take. They are hard charging thoroughbreds with an eye on the winner's circle. A growing business needs both types of people.

The entrepreneur often begins as a race horse with a plow attached. If he creates a successful business model and not just a job for himself, his company will grow. He will soon need to hire other people.

Plow Horses Excel At Routines

Smart business owners blueprint their business and begin establishing business systems that produce consistent and measurable results—financial systems, marking systems, customer care systems, and so forth. They understand that good systems run the business and they can hire non-expert and less expensive people to run the systems—the plow horses.

Plow horses are easy to train. You can quickly teach them to follow the rows—your documented systems and procedures. If performance is lacking, you tweak the system or replace the individual, with little effect on your business.

Without systems, you must employ higher-skilled and more expensive people. Job satisfaction also tends to be lower, resulting in costly turnover. Using business systems, plow horses are able to produce desired results every single time, even when you are not around. Your business runs profitably, efficiently, and flawlessly, all by itself!

Race Horses Get You Into the Winner’s Circle

The race horses are a special breed of people: they are executives and managers who are born to excel at anything they do. They are inspired leaders and system innovators. They are fiercely loyal, deeply committed to the company's success, and have high moral character. They focus on specifics and measured performance. They apply 80% of their effort to the 20% of tasks—customers, employees, business systems, and so forth—that accomplish the most good. Give these “finishers” something they love doing and then get out of their way.

"The right executives will do everything in their power to build a great company, not because of what they will get in terms of incentives and compensation, but because they simply cannot imagine settling for anything less. Their moral code is 'excellence for its own sake'" (Jim Collins).

Race horses cost more. They are worth it. They will do the right things and deliver the best results. Pay the most to individuals who have a proven track record doing exactly what you need done. Don't compensate to motivate the right behaviors from the wrong people. Compensate to get and keep the right people in the first place!

Finally, race horses are not always employees. They can serve on your board of directors or advisors, or they can be outsourced service providers or consultants. The entrepreneur who tries to do it alone has a fool for a boss! Don't become "the genius with a thousand helpers," because when the genius leaves, the company falters. Be smart! Surround yourself with a strong management team—with people even smarter than you!

One caution: Beware of "wild stallions." They are powerful and charismatic superstars that you may think will save the day. Often their free spirit or aggressive nature makes them difficult, unpredictable or unsuitable for your team. They are usually expensive and have personal ambitions that are not aligned with the business. They may one day become your competitor.

Hire the best

Make certain you have your people in the right job positions where they can bloom. Be sure they have a clear understanding of what you expect of them. If you need to make a change, act quickly. Letting the wrong people stay around is unfair to all the right people. You will first feel it in your gut when a change is necessary. Think to yourself: Would I hire that person again? If he or she left, would I be disappointed or relieved? Terminating employees is one of the hardest things a business owner does, but take courage and do it for the sake of the team.

Job candidates are looking for a great place to work. Like customers, they too are seeking to find the best deal. Find and keep great employees in the same way you would find and keep great customers: apply the golden rule. Treat them as you would want to be treated.

(Note -The top ten desires of employees based on needs, fears, and goals are: job security, financial security, preparing for retirement, saving for a child’s tuition, saving for a home, retiring early, making more money, furthering education outside of work, staying healthy, having more time with family (Kevin Klinvex, Hiring Great People).

Keep in mind: You always pay for the "A" employee, so hire the best. Why? The lesser cost of a "C" employee plus the hidden cost of lower performance, poor decisions, and costly mistakes is equal to or greater than the higher cost of the "A" employee. Replacing "C" employees with "A" employees is essential to the success of your business.

“A” employees are people who have a history of getting results. They aren’t afraid of accountability and scorekeeping. They are self-confident and can see how past successes can apply to new assignments, but they are also teachable and eager to learn new things. They are a good fit for your organization because their personal goals are in line with your company’s goals.

"Great companies place greater weight on character than education, skills, or experience when hiring. The reason: you can teach skills, but character, basic intelligence, work ethic, and dedication to fulfilling commitments are values that are ingrained in a person. Like a professional sports team, only the best make the annual cut, regardless of position or tenure" (Jim Collins).

Research has shown that the cost of hiring the wrong person is astronomical! Your hiring system must do a superb job at getting "the right people on the bus" the first time. The cost of turnover and low performance is always more than the cost of an effective hiring system.

Good companies have a structured, well planned "hiring system" that helps them attract and choose the best candidates. Below are some tips to get you good hires.

Prepare For the Interview

Determine the key competencies required for the job before you interview a candidate. Write a job description. Create a list of questions for the interview that are specific to that job and will help determine if the person's personality and skills are a good fit for the organization.

If possible, plan well in advance of your need. Cast a broad net in your advertising. Interview as many qualified candidates as possible. Don't rush the process and end up hiring the wrong person.

Conduct telephone interviews to screen out inappropriate candidates. Schedule your staff members who will work one-on-one with the candidate to also interview your top choices. Get their feedback.

Work the Interview

Dig deep to find out whether the candidate is more comfortable with details or the big picture. Are they a self-starter or an order-taker? Are they a plow horse or a race horse? Create questions that will give you the answers you need. Ask focused questions, and then listen carefully. Take notes. Be sure to understand what questions you are legally prevented from asking (e.g., Are you married? Do you have health problems?).

After conducting interviews, use a grid to help choose the best candidate. Simply put the names of each candidate horizontally and put the job requirements or key competencies vertically. "As a rule of thumb, entry level positions require 5-8 competencies, intermediate level 8-11, and senior level positions 10-14 competencies" (Kevin Klinvex). Rate each candidate from 1 to 5 on each of the job requirements or competencies. The person with the highest ratings, coupled with a positive gut feeling, is probably your best choice. Gut instinct alone only works 10% of the time (Kevin Klinvex). Trust in the collective judgment of all interviewers.

Set your minimum standard and don't settle for less because you will regret it. Over-recruit, over-interview, and over-hire in order to find the very best people that you are looking for. When in doubt, keep looking.

Your Most Valuable Asset

A company should limit its growth based on its ability to attract enough of the right people. Remember, "People aren't your most important asset, the right people are" (Jim Collins).

Create a vision of what your business will look like when it is finished. Have an effective system to "get the right people on the bus." Hire ordinary people with basic competencies to run your business systems and a strong management team to get you to the finish line.

In the Zone you will create your system for hiring and developing a great workforce. Great companies always have great people!  Never forget that.

Now, the magic really begins to happen as the right people come together with remarkable business systems to create a culture of discipline, enthusiasm and high-performance results. The people and systems, working in harmony, produce the sweet music of a full-piece orchestra. Read on to take the next big step!

Step 9: Turn Your Business Into a Game and Keep Score
Back to Table of Contents: 10 Easy Steps to Grow the Perfect Business




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Tags: Business Systems, People, Culture, Business Leader

Better Than a Suggestion Box: Tap into a Wealth of Employee Ideas!

Posted byRon Carroll

“You are surrounded by simple, obvious solutions that can dramatically increase your income, power, influence and success. The problem is, you just don't see them” (Jay Abraham, marketing consultant).

Let’s talk about a simple strategy that will help you harvest an abundant crop of new ideas that are sure to motivate employees, give customers a better buying experience, and increase financial results.

Business Improvement Ideas

An Untapped Asset

Though perhaps unnoticed, the people around you possess a wealth of experience, talent, insight, and creative ideas that are just waiting for the right opportunity to be shared.

Sadly, many useful and innovative thoughts that could improve your company are never expressed. Why? You don’t have a business system to tap into the collective intelligence of workers who are intimately involved with your daily operations; this includes the "average" folks that rarely speak up.

Everyone in your organization is potentially a problem-solver and an innovator. If you have an idea-rich culture of continuous learning and improvement, your employees are always thinking: "How can I do this easier, faster, better or less expensively.” 

Researcher Alan Robinson says "ideas are 'free' and employees will gladly make improvements as part of their job if the environment you create is right.”

So what kind of system can you create to harness the knowledge, imagination, and renewable energy of your employees?

The Outdated Suggestion Box

Some companies have tried a “suggestion box.” Employees write ideas or recommendations on a form and put them in a labeled drop-box. Managers read the suggestions (sometimes) and implement the ones they think will work. However, suggestion boxes typically aren’t very effective. They allow anonymity leading to frivolous suggestions or mean-spirited remarks. They focus on problems but not necessarily solutions, and solutions offered are not always feasible. Employees often propose more work for other people who are already busy, and thus no action is taken. Finally, this old-style system usually doesn’t reward successful implementation and sustained results stemming from the suggestion.

There is a better way!               (Photo: Bright Ideas Campaign)

Employee Improvements

Ideas for Improvement

Here are some ideas to implement a business system that will solicit real improvement ideas, generate enthusiasm from employees, and save or earn your company thousands of dollars over the coming year.

  1. To begin, let’s get rid of the suggestion box and replace it with a filing system by worker name. After all, we expect every person to submit many suggestions—often small ones—over the course of a year.  It’s also a good idea to review the employee’s file of suggested improvements during performance evaluations or other interviews.

  2. Next, give the system a new name—something that emphasizes solutions instead of merely suggestions. You could call it the “business improvement program” or the “employee ideas-for-improvement program.” If those sound a little lame, have a brainstorming session or contest to name the system. Let me know what you come up with.

  3. The person with a new idea for a solution or improvement completes a brief form (get a sample form in The Zone) and hand-delivers it to their supervisor or someone who could provide the time and resources needed. Good ideas might help with customer satisfaction, cost savings, productivity, process improvement, revenue-generation, and so forth. A brief plan to implement the proposal is also included. The merits of the idea are discussed, and an action plan generated.

  4. Ideally, the submitter of the new solution should be responsible for its implementation. Ownership increases the likelihood of success. Active participation by the submitter removes one of the major complaints with the old suggestion box: “I gave the company a good idea, but they didn’t do anything with it.” Lack of action kills the motivation of any improvement program.

  5. Always thank employees for their time, effort and feedback. Positive reinforcement will keep the good ideas flowing. Create a reward system for people whose ideas are successfully implemented. Frequent acknowledgment of the many small improvements is more effective than occasional recognition of a few big ones. Consider giving a vacation day, tickets to a sporting event, or a gift card. When others see that good ideas are rewarded and appreciated, they will join in. If appropriate, give financial compensation, partial when the solution is first implemented and the rest over time with proven results. The reward system helps the submitter maintain ownership and a vested interest in assuring that the new solution is understood, accepted, and practiced by everyone.

  6. If you want to create a little healthy competition, do something visible like posting a chart that shows the number of ideas submitted by each person, team, or department. Be creative. Recognize winning ideas in your weekly Business Improvement Workshop. Celebrate achievements with perhaps a pizza party.

  7. Maintain a simple log of new ideas presented, the person’s name, and date implemented. This helps the supervisor know what is going on at a glance and allows for a frequent review of progress. Again, talk it up at your Business Improvement Workshop.

Never Stop Improving

Get connected with your knowledgeable, imaginative, inspired, resourceful, eager-to-contribute employees who are quietly working in their cubical or on a production line. Capitalize on this great hidden treasure you are already paying for.

Every little improvement—hundreds a year— will make your business better and better, until one day, you have a smooth-running, people-pleasing, money-making system!

P.S. - Get the "Business Improvement Suggestion Form" in The Zone.


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Tags: People, Improvement, Innovation, System Example

Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men

Posted byRon Carroll

It was Christmas Eve, 1914. The German soldiers had just retreated from another futile attack. The day was cold and wet. The trenches were filled with mud, blood, and the bodies of friends and enemies. A heavy snow began to fall. The wounded left behind would surely freeze during the night. The survivors had to prepare for the counter-attack that would come in the morning.

Trench Warfare

As usual, the nightly canons belched their deadly bombs. In spite of the noise and death that surrounded them, the men reflected on the many friends who were lost. Despair and hopelessness increased as the soldiers' thoughts turned to Christmas, family, and home. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day. Rather than looking ahead with courage, the soldiers prepared themselves to die.

Then, along toward the mystic hour of midnight, with deep snow on the ground, a full moon in the sky, and stars shining down in the icy night, an incredible thing happened. The noise of the rumbling guns began to grow faint, and finally, the sound ceased altogether. Silence lay over the Western Front. The noise of battle gave way to a heavenly peace.

Christmas Eve on the Battlefield

Deep in the German trenches, one young recruit, homesick for his family and aching for the joy of Christmas, began to sing, "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! Alles Schalft, einsom wacht...."

His reverent voice pierced the silence and was heard by soldiers on both sides. Quickly, the thoughts of countless soldiers turned from the despair of war to the hope of Christmas. Soon the same song rose from the trenches of the French.

Next, the Dutch soldiers added their voices.

And finally, the British and Americans joined the angelic choir, "Silent night, holy night. All is calm; all is bright."

Some of the German boys became so excited that they burst up out of the trenches. Their officers tried to restrain them, but nothing could hold them back. They ran across “no man's land” (the ground between enemy trenches), reaching out their hands to greet the British. For two or three hours they fraternized. They were no longer soldiers. They were German boys from the Rhineland; they were Scottish boys from the Highlands, and they were English boys from the cities and the green fields. "Let the war stop," they said, “it is Christmas Eve!"

This miracle on Christmas Eve, a brief pause from the horrific suffering of war, was one of the greatest events during World War I. It was one lonely night when humanity turned to love, and God whispered the comforting words, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”

May our troubled world embrace this same wonderful message of hope, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”


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Tags: People

Process Improvement: The Rules of Engagement!

Posted byRon Carroll

President Woodrow Wilson said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” Or it could be said, “Try to improve something,” which often has the same consequence.

Process Improvement - Change Ahead

Challenging the Status Quo

Creating a results-driven business culture—with discipline, measurement and accountability—can be a new way of doing things for many small-business owners and their employees. Care must be taken that these elements do not discourage or even become threatening. When people work together—solving problems and sharing ideas—the exchange should always be positive and motivating.

Developing or improving business systems and processes challenges the status quo. It puts the organization under a microscope and exposes ugly blemishes. It questions long established traditions. It recognizes no “sacred cows.” The only goal is to find the best way of doing something. This scrutiny sometimes makes people feel nervous, threatened, frustrated, or even angry.

When seeking truth, you must be prepared to face the brutal facts and emotions surrounding your current business practices and proposed solutions.

Look for the Best in People

Most people involved in improvement projects want to make a positive contribution and arrive at the best solutions. So be careful not to put people under the microscope or blame them for performance problems, especially in an open meeting. Instead, focus on faulty systems or processes that prevent people from doing their best.

In his book, "Results Rule!," Randy Pennington describes a Positive Performance™ management process based on the following core beliefs:

  • "Individuals need to be treated with dignity and respect.

  • Most people want to do a good job and will do so if given the opportunity and ability.

  • The leader’s job is to create the environment for employees to succeed as individuals and as a group.

  • Everyone is responsible for performing in a manner that helps the organization achieve results and build strong relationships.

  • Treating individuals responsibly means that we earn the right to expect them to act responsibly."

During brainstorming and discussion, allow open dialog, inquiry, and free expression from all participants. Say to the group, "I am open to other points of view." Then listen carefully as employees or customers contribute ideas. When you convey appreciation for shared thoughts and feelings, people are more comfortable in expressing their views. Those who are passionate about their opinions (advocates) should not be stifled if they are communicating appropriately. In the end, business owners, leaders, or voting team members make the final decision.

The process is this: Listen-Thank-Consider-Decide.

Build Trust and Hope

Ann Bruce and James Pepitone give us "12 Cornerstones for Building Trust and Hope in an Organization”:

  • Respect your followers.
  • Watch how you say things.
  • Communicate openly.
  • Listen and don’t argue.
  • Avoid zingers, digs and putdowns.
  • Point out the positive.
  • Appreciate what others have to say.
  • Acknowledge that trust is a mutual exchange.
  • Increase trust gradually.
  • Be truthful with yourself.
  • Show your human side"

I once worked with a business owner who communicated to his workers the attitude: “It’s my way or the highway.” His strong opinions shut down communication and the valuable suggestions and ideas of others.

It is best to arrive at system solutions based upon facts and not personal opinions. Be objective and unbiased; seek evidence, including business statistics, reports, surveys, and other forms of measurement. There is not a right or wrong solution until proven with results—hard data whenever possible. Listen to those with the “eyes of experience” (insiders) as well as those with the “fresh eyes of objectivity" (outsiders).

Encourage Continuous Learning and Improvement

By introducing change, you may be greeted with resistance, but more often, there is a sense of relief that improvement is coming. Don’t be afraid of change, but implement new business systems with care and patience. Your employees will appreciate it.

Remember: when you include employees in the system development process, you get greater buy-in and support.

So, get all of your people to become Systems Thinkers. Set stretch goals based on your Balanced Scorecard objectives. Aim for tangible financial results. Assign accountability. Handle conflict. Involve team members in the decision-making process. Put your faith in data.
Encourage continuous learning and improvement. Hold effective system improvement workshops. Unleash everyone’s potential. And celebrate success.


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Tags: Systems Thinker, Business Systems, People, Improvement, Culture

Teamwork: 7 Tips to Get Remarkable Results with Your Business Systems

Posted byRon Carroll

Every business is made up of systems and processes. In the typical small to mid-size company, people are the most important component of those business systems. When a team of people is formed to manage a specific system or process (e.g., production, marketing, accounting, etc.), there is an opportunity for superior results. The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts (Aristotle).

A team is a group of people working together to accomplish an objective. In the Box Theory™ methodology, teams operate within business systems to accomplish the strategy and goals of the organization. Teams have an advantage of combined resources, experience, talents, ideas, and energy. Quote: Teamwork is essential in any great human endeavor (John Maxwell, “The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork”).

Principles of Teamwork

When putting together business teams, consider the following seven principles:

  1. Team Leader/System Owner – Team leaders communicate vision, purpose and expectations, and provide members necessary knowledge and skills. The team leader is an example, mentor, teacher, and motivator—open to the ideas and input of others. To the extent possible, good leaders empower team members with trust, respect, independence, flexibility, freedom to fail, and responsibility for personal results. They avoid the tendency to dominate or interfere, which can reduce efficiency and dampen morale. Team leaders are accountable for team performance and system results. Quote: The basic building block of good team-building is for a leader to promote the feeling that every person is unique and adds value (Author Unknown).

  2. Culture of Teamwork – In a teamwork environment, people believe that thinking, planning, decisions, and actions are better when done cooperatively. “None of us individually is as good as all of us working together.” Team members learn from and help one another. They face the brutal facts about current performance, pursue the best over the easiest, focus energy on the right things, do what they say they are going to do, and strive to learn, grow and improve every day. In a culture of teamwork, people are dissatisfied with the status-quo and have a strong passion for contributing, competing, and “winning.” All for one and one for all, they succeed or fail together.  Quote: The ultimate distinction setting a Results Rule! culture apart from all others is personal and organizational accountability (Randy Pennington, “Results Rule!”).

  3. Team Size – Depending on the task, team size will vary. However, studies have shown that the ideal team is small—not more than five to six members—“especially when coordination and motivation are important.” A team name (e.g. sales team or HR team) creates identity, pride, and unity of purpose. The team has everyone it needs and no one it doesn’t need to accomplish its objective as efficiently as possible. It is viewed by others as a single entity. Team members work where they provide the most value and excel at their specific job duties. The strength of the team is impacted by its weakest link. Bad attitudes kill team spirit and performance. The best teams have good chemistry and often one or two strong individuals who “make things happen.” Quote: Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work (Vince Lombardi).

  4. Team Goals – The team has clearly defined and shared goals. Members are committed to excellence, accept and learn from mistakes, and seek continuous improvement of people, products and processes. All team members understand the company strategy and goals and how they specifically contribute to the success of the organization. Team needs or goals come before individual needs and goals; members are willing to sacrifice when required. Creative thinking, innovative solutions, and new ideas are valued. People are rewarded for taking reasonable risks, stretching to make improvements, or even taking on a BHAGThe team is committed to paying the price of success. Quote: Teamwork allows common people to attain uncommon results (Andrew Carnegie).

  5. Improvement Cycle – In a business-system cycle, results are continually communicated back to the team. The more frequent feedback is received, the better the results. Ideally, the team always knows how they are doing in relation to the goal; they know what is working and what isn’t working. Adjustments are made in real time. Regular feedback encourages innovation and improvement. System Improvement Workshops are also a great way to establish a pattern of team-driven improvement. Quote: The greatest danger a team faces isn't that it won't become successful, but that it will, and then cease to improve (Mark Sanborn).

  6. Cross-Training of Team Members – Not every position on a team or step in a process requires equal time from team members, and occasionally a person may be absent. It is beneficial to help people become proficient at multiple roles on the team. Cross-trained team members can cover for each other, or remove a bottleneck if demand spikes. Rotating people also provides a variety of work-tasks throughout the day, thus reducing boredom or fatigue. Quote: Overcoming barriers to performance is how groups become teams (Author Unknown).
  7. Team-building – Good teams are well-trained and coached. Business Improvement Workshops can be very effective to inhance processes and simultaneously strengthen team members. Put fun into the meeting agenda with team member spotlights and humorous openers/icebreakers. Bonding of team members can also occur with social activities, team T-shirts or hats, pizza Fridays, and so forth. Healthy competition, achieving a personal best, or breaking a company record will spur enthusiasm and individual growth. Compensation, bonuses, and rewards should recognize team results as well as individual contribution and achievement. Celebrate victories and give public recognition whenever possible. Investing in teams pays big dividends. You are only limited by your imagination. Quote: The strength of the team is each individual member... the strength of each member is the team (Phil Jackson, Coach Chicago Bulls).

It Begins with Your Leadership

Creating good business systems, and first-rate teams to run them, is the essential role of owners and managers. As Michael Jordon once said, Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world, indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has (Ayn Rand).


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Tags: Business Systems, People, Business Leader

How to Create Results-Oriented Job Descriptions

Posted byRon Carroll

Many small-business owners do not have formal job descriptions. Big Mistake! A job description is more than just a list of things an employee should do. As important as that is, the job description is also the primary tool used to fit the right person to the work assignment.

Hire the Right Person

People are often the most valuable and expensive components of your business ystems and processes. Every hire is important. Every miss-hire is expensive. The job candidate should fit the job function just as you would fit a component part in a piece of equipment. Think of a job description as a specification for a system component called "accountant," "welder," or "salesperson." The better your part fits, the better your business system or process performs.

Job Analysis

To prepare a job description you must first perform a job analysis. This is done by gathering information about the job through observation, questionnaire, and interviewing employees. Your analysis will identify the following:

  • The purpose of the job
  • The essential functions of the job (duties, responsibilities, methods, desired results)
  • The qualifications needed (training, knowledge, skills, experience, personality traits) 
  • Special requirements (schedules, travel, environmental conditions, physical demands)
  • Salary and benefits

Results-Oriented Job Descriptions

Job descriptions are developed from the job analysis. They are used in the employee-selection process, training, performance appraisals, and when considering compensation. A results-oriented job description defines what job-results the organization requires to accomplish its mission, strategy and goals. It focuses first on the desired job outcomes, and then adds the tasks or duties necessary to accomplish those outcomes (get "Results-Oriented Job Description" sample form).

For example, a receptionist’s duty may be to answer the telephone. However, the person’s real responsibility is to help customers. A human-resource person hires and terminates employees, but their underlying purpose is "to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus" (Jim Collins, “Good to Great”)—to fit people precisely to job requirements.

The value of a results-oriented job description is to remind employees of why they do a task, and how it benefits the organization.

Uses of the Job Description

A clear and concise job description contains all relevant information pertaining to the job and what is required to be successful. In the job interview, the potential candidate can determine whether the job is right for them. This will prevent your company from hiring the wrong person and wasting valuable time and resources.

In addition, job descriptions provide an agreement between supervisors and workers as to the expected performance results. This is particularly important for employee evaluations and monetary considerations. Job descriptions also give solid legal backing for wrongful termination and discrimination claims.

Elements of a Good Job Description

The following is a brief description of the categories that make up a well-written job description:

  • Job Title – Consider internal and external status issues. Avoid inflating titles.
  • Department/Location – Where will the person work?
  • Reports To – What is the job title of the person's supervisor?
  • Job Purpose - Include one or two sentences summarizing the primary function and general purpose of the job.
  • Essential Functions – Most positions will have five to eight major function areas. List them in descending order of importance, and if desired, indicate the percentage of time spent on each duty. Use clear and concise language; closely related duties should be grouped together in one responsibility statement. Avoid gender-based language. Identify the major functions of the job with short headings that begin with action verbs. Describe the work in terms of desired outcomes (see "Results-Oriented Job Description" sample form).
  • Disclaimer Statement – Supervisors may revise and/or add duties in response to changes in requirements or employee skill levels. To reflect this, the following statement should be included in all job descriptions: "The employer reserves the right to change or assign other duties to this position."
  • Job Qualifications – In a results-oriented job description, use the following statement: "Job qualifications are stated in the Essential Functions section of the job description. An employee must be able to accomplish the Essential Functions in order to be competent in the job. Other special requirements are noted below.
  • Special Requirements – Include requirements not specifically mentioned in the Essential Functions. List minimum specifications for formal training, education, certifications, and licenses. Identify specific knowledge, skills, and/or abilities that are required. Describe physical demands, special environmental conditions, unusual work schedules, and travel requirements. If important, indicate required work experience and desired personal qualities.
  • Type – Is the person Part-time or Full-time?
  • Term of Employment – Is the work Permanent, Temporary, or a specific length of time (e.g., 12 months)?
  • FLSA Status – Is the person subject to overtime laws—Exempt or Nonexempt?
  • Wage or Salary – List the specific wage or wage range.
  • Date Written – Note the original or revision date of the Job Description.
  • Approving Authority – Include the supervisor’s signature and date of approval.
  • Employee Acceptance Signature – Get the signature and date from the job candidate.


Education and experience requirements are where inadvertent discrimination may occur. Your educational requirements must be a real necessity for the job. If someone could accomplish the work with equivalent job experience, but who lacks a specific credential, the job description should be modified. To avoid age discrimination, experience should not include an upper limit. Credentials, such as degrees and licenses, are absolute necessities in some jobs. However, be sure that whatever credentials you establish have a direct bearing on the candidate’s ability to become a top performer.

Job descriptions are be written in clear and concise sentences. The basic structure for sentences in a job description should be "implied subject/verb/object/explanatory phrase." It is best to start with action verbs like "operates" and "maintains" (James R. Lindner, "Writing Job Descriptions for Small Businesses," Misc. Pub 93-9, Ohio State University, Piketon).

The job you describe must be truly doable. When you combine several tasks into the same job description, make sure you’re not creating a job that very few people could fill. For example, I recently saw an ad for a website developer. The company was seeking someone who was a graphic designer, a programmer, content writer, search engine optimizer, and marketer. It would take a pretty special person to have all of those skills.

Focus on the end-result of the task, not how to achieve it. For example, "Must be able to move 25-pound aluminum parts from a 40-inch high conveyor belt to a 60-inch high platform 3 times per minute for 2-3 hours daily," is preferable to "Must be able to lift 25 pounds."

Use specific language such as the examples below.

Too general: Computer literate
Specific: Proficient with Microsoft Word, Excel, QuickBooks

Too general: Good communication skills
Specific: Ability to communicate technical information to non-technical audiences

Too general: Handles administrative chores
Specific: Receives, sorts, and files monthly personnel action reports

The last item of your Essential Functions should be a catch-all phrase such as: Contributes to organization success by accepting new assignments, helping team members, learning new skills, and striving to improve team results.

Job Descriptions Should Be Written and Clear

Create results-oriented job descriptions (sample form) if you want to get the most out of employees and your business systems and processes. When expectations are written and clear, people work better, and they work better together.


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Tags: Business Systems, People, System Example

The WOW Factor: Six "More" Ways to Supercharge Your Business Systems!

Posted byRon Carroll

The primary purpose of the WOW Factor is to attract, convert, and retain customers. In my last article, we talked about applying this quality to the business systems that affect your external customers. In this article, we will talk about ways to WOW your internal customers—your employees.

Remember: Your business consists entirely of systems and processes. You can only produce a WOW Factor by enhancing a specific procedure or component in one of your business systems. There is no other way! You have to build your WOW idea into one or more of your business systems.

Business Systems that WOW

When customers—including employees—have an intensely positive reaction to something about your business, you’ve got a WOW Factor!

So, here are six more suggestions to get that WOW thing going with the valuable people that are helping you to create a remarkable company.

WOW Your Employees

  1. WOW Factor #1: Develop a World-Class Organization (no matter what your size) – When people love coming to work every day and are proud of your company’s mission, products, and standing in the community, you’ve got a WOW Factor. When your business is financially stable, growing, and offers employees opportunities for learning and development, you’ve got a WOW Factor! Every business system you create that delivers an excellent result will take you one step closer to becoming a world-class organization!

  2. WOW Factor #2: Fill Employee Buckets to Overflow – Let's face it, people are WOWED by better-than-average wages, incentives, and benefits. Paying at the higher end of the salary scale will help you get the “A” employees and retain them longer. The result will be stronger work-groups or teams, long-term stability, and top performance—EVEN WHEN YOU’RE NOT AROUND. (The money needed to offer better compensation than your competitors comes by cutting waste and inefficiency from your business processes.)  And don’t forget to fill those employee buckets with deserved respect, praise, and recognition. The more you generously give to others, the more you get in return—the Law of Reciprocity.

  3. WOW Factor #3: Create a Culture of Excellence – Use business systems, measurement, and continuous improvement methods to bring the best out of people—a disciplined work ethic, consistent results, and patterns of excellence. Your employees will experience no greater WOW than the thrill of personal accomplishment. (You can make this happen even with ordinary employees doing mundane tasks.) Your high-performance business culture will produce an abundance of WOW Factors for customers of all types.

  4. WOW Factor #4: Be the Golden-Rule Boss – No doubt, we are all WOWED by the company owner who is an amazing innovator, the coach who demands our best, or the visionary who inspires. However, the real WOW Factor for most employees is the everyday boss who listens, is supportive, rolls up his or her sleeves to help solve a problem, follows through on commitments, and is generous with giving out credit or praise. The Golden-Rule boss treats subordinates as they would want to be treated if roles were reversed. And when things go wrong, this wise leader first looks for problems in business systems before blaming people.

  5. WOW Factor #5: Elevate Your People – “WOW” can be used to describe a workplace that enables people to learn new skills, experience personal growth, and advance their careers. Many employees love work that is meaningful and where they can make a difference. They like challenging assignments, specialized training, or taking ownership of a business system. Some workers will become stars if included in a big idea, a big goal (BHAG), or put on a dream team. Others will stretch and even sacrifice to accomplish something extraordinary. Anything that enlightens, elevates, or energizes people is going to be a WOW Factor!

  6. WOW Factor #6: Focus on Individuals – Every employee has a unique personality their own feelings about what makes a WOW Factor. Get to know your employees like your other customers. Over the years, I have discovered a variety of little things that seem to WOW people. For example, some employees like flexible work hours, pizza Fridays, casual Fridays, Fridays off, or working from home. Others value a clean, organized and systemized workplace. Some like autonomy or control, while others flourish when given tasks that require creativity or innovation. Discover the unique interests and talents of your employees and make the most of them. The degree to which you magnify individual people, you will magnify your company.

Play to WOW!

In the T.V. series, “The Undercover Boss,” the business owner, working incognito along-side company employees, comes to know some of their hopes and dreams. At the end of the undercover week, the boss is revealed and often does something special to help a few employees achieve their personal goals (e.g., college tuition or a family vacation). Those helped are deeply grateful, and obviously feeling the WOW Factor!

WOW Factors usually don't require much money, and if done correctly, can pay big dividends. What they do require is a business owner or management team that understands the game of work, and plays to WOW!

Related Articles:
The WOW Factor: Six Ways to Supercharge Your Business Systems! (Part 1)
Turn Dust-Gathering Procedures into Business Systems that Wow!
Business Systems vs. the Misunderstood Operations Manual
Boost Your Business Profit by Adding the Fun Factor!
Does Your Business Have a Double McTwist 1260?


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Tags: Business Systems, General Business, People, Business Leader

Ten Tips to Increase Employee Productivity!

Posted byRon Carroll

The productivity of business operations can make or break your company. High productivity doesn’t happen by itself. However, dramatic improvements are common when you apply correct principles to elevate your people and processes.

Employee Productivity

Early in my career, and coming as a pleasant surprise, I doubled productivity in a manufacturing environment by applying some of the principles below. At the time, I was amazed by the results. It seemed like a miracle. Now I understand the productivity gains as simple Cause and Effect.

How to Create a Productive Workforce

  1. Be sure that each employee is a good fit to their work assignment. Keep in mind that people perform at their highest potential only when they are focusing on the most valuable use of their time. Avoid using highly-paid people for lower-value work.

  2. Invest in the learning and growth of your workforce. Provide clear job descriptions, relevant training (80% hands-on, 20% classroom), and educational activities such as in-house workshops. Tom Peters said, "If your company is doing well, double your training budget; if your company is not doing well, quadruple it!”

  3. Set performance standards, stretch-goals, and schedules or deadlines that engage workers and give them a target to shoot for. Productivity increases as people get closer to the goal, so make them short-term. Hold workers accountable for their results.

  4. Develop a business culture where productivity is recognized and rewarded. (This begins by putting people into effective business systems and processes.) Turn work into a game and keep score; people work harder at play than they do at work. Add incentives, fun, team competition, and don’t forget to celebrate victories. “When employees are happy, they are more creative and productive" (Daniel Gilbert, “January-February 2012 Harvard Business Review”).

  5. Measuring performance drives productivity and improvement. “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates” (Thomas Monson, business/religious leader). Be sure to identify and carefully monitor your key performance indicators.

  6. To improve the productivity of any business activity, increase the frequency of performance feedback to those engaged in the activity; the more frequent the feedback, the better the results. It is best when workers know where they stand in relation to goals, without waiting for others to tell them.

  7. Create small work-group teams that bring added resources, talents, ideas, and energy toward the accomplishment of organizational goals. (The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts!) Teamwork tends to bring the best out in people and is essential in any great human endeavor.

  8. Focus-Finish-Focus-Finish. Multi-tasking, “wearing multiple hats,” or being “spread too thin” are signs of a start-stop work-flow that destroys continuity, momentum and productivity. When people focus on one task at a time, they are most efficient at getting work done.

  9. Address negative attitudes or personal issues of employees. For example, take action if they don’t like their job, supervisor, or co-workers, or when they have individual or family problems. Stop excessive chit-chat, personal phone calls, or wasting time on the Internet. These productivity busters will also diminish the effectiveness of co-workers!

  10. Avoid administrative meetings that kill time for a lot of people. Instead, use email or memos to keep people informed. The meetings that boost productivity include job training and process improvement or business improvement workshops.

Best Productivity Tip of All

Creating a work environment with good business systems and the ten productivity boosters described above will encourage discipline and excellence, and put more money in the pockets of you and your stakeholders—GUARANTEED!

Now, here is a bonus tip: When people enjoy their work and are performing at their best, they will also stay with the company longer. Retention of good people is perhaps the best productivity booster of all.

Related Article:
Ten Tips to Increase the Productivity of Your Business Processes!


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Tags: Business Systems, People, Improvement, Laws/Principles, Efficiency/Speed