Setting up Systems You Can Set & Forget
So, one of the processes that I think most businesses have to deal with is hiring, as this one shows. Paying a bill is another one that's pretty common. As I said, you ask somebody why they do something the way they do it and they'll say, "Well that's how we've always done it." So think to yourselves right now how many steps you think there are in the typical processes that you go through on a regular basis. So if I were to ask you how many steps do you think are in the process of paying a bill, and I do this a lot of times so I'm not gonna put anybody on the spot here, people throw out number like seven steps, 11 steps, 12 steps, whatever. It's about 21 steps, is the average number of steps it takes somebody to pay a bill. And I want you to understand that because (laughs) that sounds like a lot, but if you actually break down a process properly, that's really nothing. So you say okay, I get the physical bill, if it's physical or not. Paper bill, e-bill, doesn't matter, what do you do...
with the actual bill? Are you just gonna file it? Do you give it to an accountant? Do you have to share that information with somebody somehow in an expense report or whatever it might be? Then you're gonna actually deal with the paying it, so are going to the Bank of America website or to Payable or wherever you do the bill paying putting in the information. If it's a new person you're paying, do you have to put in that information, or do you have to see if they're there already? Do you check with the last bank? All of this stuff goes into it, about 21 steps. And that's 21 steps if you can identify them properly. It's a good exercise to go through to start writing down some of these processes in your business. So you look at the things you do on a regular basis, whether it's daily, and there's definitely things you do daily, or if it's weekly or monthly, it doesn't matter, but any repeatable process needs to have an actual process documented. Two big mistakes people make when documenting processes. The first one is that they will typically use absolute references instead of relative references. What I mean by that is that a typical process that you might see, somebody will say go to the hiring database, and then go to the first work sheet and check on the first thing, whatever it is. So if you give that to somebody who doesn't actually know how to do that, they're gonna say, well how do I get to the hiring database? Where is that hiring database? That's like assumed knowledge. A better process says open the hiring database, here's a link to the hiring database, and if you need to access it the password and username are in our one password account under the shared folder, for example. So absolute references are not good in that situation. You need to have a relative reference so we know exactly what the context is and where to go to it. And an absolute reference by that sort of definition is the person who's telling it, it's just they just know where it is, so that's exactly where it is for them. So you need to know where assets are, how to access them, and again, even if this knowledge is really obvious to everybody, that's not gonna be obvious to people who have not ever done this before. So another key thing to understand as a global sense of why we do this is that a typical issue that comes up in businesses beyond hiring is training. How do we train good people? How do we find good people? How do we find and train good people? You have to do a lot less training or almost zero training if you have a process documented like this. Now, I know some of you are out there watching this and thinking well I have screencasts of what I do, and I can show those kinds of things. So obviously not every process is on the computer but a lot of them are nowadays. And screencasts are great. The problem is that it's literally impossible to do an efficient screencast because nobody can open up a process that they're gonna record, and not have to wait for something to load several times and not have to be like, "Ah, and then you go here, "and then you-- "okay, well let's just wait for that to load, "and then we'll click here." There's no such thing as an efficient screencast. If somebody were to show me a 30 second screencast of a process, I'd be amazed. We've seen screencasts in our company that are two hours long. Yeah. And the problem, there's two things with that. One is you can't update information, pretty much at all. Second is that somebody has to watch that whole thing before they can start. Whereas if you have a well written out, I mean in essence this is pretty basic what this is showing. If you have it written out like this, the person just opens it and starts. There's no training. There's no learning curve. They just do it. And that doesn't mean you're reducing them to you know, like a machine essentially because there's things here that obviously require human input. But they don't have to wait. They can get right to it. Then the other reason for documenting it like this, besides the training aspect, is that it makes you more replaceable. So this is a really key thing that is hard for people to swallow. And this is whether you're a founder of a company or you're thinking about starting a company or you work in a corporate machine. We should all have the goal of making ourselves more replaceable. So if you're not replaceable, you are a liability, plain and simple. Everyone loves the hit by a bus example. It works perfectly here. (laughs) You get hit by a bus tomorrow, what happens? So you are a bottleneck in that case, you're a liability. And it's a lot of pressure on any one person to think that they are the only person that can do whatever that thing is that they do. And unfortunately, human psychology really plays into that very badly and then we just want to hoard all this stuff that we're so good at. I can't tell you how many executives we have as clients of our company who think that they're the only ones who can book travel for themselves. Because specifying aisle versus window is nuanced. (laughs) So... You're never gonna be fully replaceable. We don't want you to obviously be replaced, but if you have that as sort of a goal and a guiding light in what you do, it's a really different way of looking at how we do business.
How do you manage that process of putting these lists together? Like, obviously you're saying the time might only last two weeks or two months, then you gotta re-update it. That could be a job in itself, (laughs) you know what I mean? So it could be a lot of work.
Yeah, that's a great question. So, there are some processes where it makes sense to build that in, right? So it depends on how you're having it done. So if you have the same person doing the process over and over, that's gonna be more of an issue. But one of the things that you can do, rather than saying every month we're gonna go back and revisit the process, is every month we're gonna have a different person do the process. Or try it, just for a day. Everyone swap for a day. And that's where you start to find the inefficiencies. Which is a perfect segue to what I'm gonna talk about. So if you're identifying the processes in this way, and as I was saying, the way to make them relative versus absolute, so the other side of that is when you are talking about people, you actually want relative, and not absolute references. So if in the process, you end it with saying, "Once you finish this give it to John in the HR department," that wouldn't be good. It should say something like, "Give it to the hiring manager." Something like that, something very generic. And it's not devaluing John in HR. If anything, it's making the process more robust. So that was the first point. The other thing is how you write these processes. That's the first part. The second thing is, as I said, the screencasting. So one of the ways that I love to create a process, especially when we're working with a client, is say look, just do a screencast, if it is obviously a screencastable process. Do it that way, the way you do it with all your ums and ahs and all your inefficiencies, doesn't matter. And give us the video and we will create the process for you. So this is an old trick that I used to use as I would say rather than I'm gonna give you the process I want you to make the process based on how I do it. You have somebody else make that process and then immediately give it to a third person to test the process. Because if you think about a photocopier, right? If you copy something and then copy that same thing again and then again, it's gonna get faded, and then you're gonna start to lose information. If you can do that and still have a process work then you're golden. So if you can take a bad process, give it to somebody else to write the process, give it to a third person to test, that's where you really start to fix these problems and you start to identify the holes. Because if at that tertiary level it works, then there's nothing that can hurt it. And by the way, it's one of the reasons, not the sole reason, but it's sort of one of the reasons that binary code exists the way it does. Zeroes and ones for computer coding because even a faded zero or one is still a zero or one. And that's the way that I kind of like to think about this. So every month, you can have a day where everyone switches processes. It's an awesome way to test this. We have really well documented processes in our company, but recently, our Finance Manager got married. So she was away for a week and I did payroll for the first time ever in our company, which is not my forte. And we didn't have any problems. I did the process. However, there were some inefficiencies that I identified throughout doing it. And I was like oh, well we could automate this. It's just by having a fresh set of eyes on it. But the process still worked. We can make it better. So one of the things in that process is that we used PayPal to pay people who are not in the US. And just through going through it, I was like, huh? Like, I wonder if there's like a more automated service for this or something that might be cheaper than PayPal, for example. So I started looking for those things. Whereas our Finance Manager, she does this every week, it might not sort of pop up for her to do that, just sort of a rhythm.