Have you ever watched a business grow, & continue to grow, whilst you spend most of your time just dealing with a stream of problems, struggling to grow at all?
There’s been a lot of hype around management systems, we seem to go through these phases, where it’s fashionable to ‘collect badges’ of accreditation's, and then it all seems to go quiet. Of course one of those ‘badges’ is the long list of ISO based management system accreditation's.
Some would argue that you don’t really need to have an ISO accreditation, ‘it’s just a waste of time & money, that the business doesn’t really afford’. Others say, they’re working towards it, but never actually get around to ‘finishing’ it. Of course, a good management system is never really ever ‘finished’, after all, the purpose of it, is to keep improving the business, and you can’t keep improving it, if it’s a stagnant document you’re always benchmark against.
So what’s the point in an ISO accreditation? Well the ‘ISO’ part, whether its ISO 9000, ISO 14000, OHSAS 18001, or whichever variant you choose depending on your business, is basically a structure or framework for you to work to. The part that lets you say, you’ve got ISO 9000 accreditation, comes from a third party certification body. The certification body will basically audit how the business operates, and tests whether your staff are actually following the ‘rules’ of the system, or whether it's just a folder left on the shelf, from one year to the next.
So if the ‘ISO’ is a certification, then what is the management system, and how do you go about setting it up? Well before we answer that, let’s look at the reason why it’s important.
Most problems come from a lack of control. Those problems materialize because nobody knows clearly how to deal with them, to stop them happening again. This causes wasted time, resource and energy, as the business continues to experience the same problems, without considering the root cause. The owner or manager of the business will spend most of their time just fire fighting and fixing a constant stream of headaches. A business owner may think that this is common for all businesses, and as some way to get around the problem, they employ a manager to take care if it, without ever actually fixing the root problem. Most of the time, especially in a small business with limited budgets, that manager will come internally from the business, they might be an engineer, and apart from supervising a few staff, they’ll have extremely limited experience in managing a business, let alone ever experiencing a management system, or how to implement one in that particular business. With the new role comes the same problems that existed for the owner, and so, the problems remain.
A management system is one part of the ‘fix’, toward sorting your every day fire fighting problems out. A lot of customers will ask that a supplier has the ISO certification because they know how difficult it can be to deal with a supplier that isn’t consistent in how they manage their business. A problem experienced by a supplier, can often be indirectly passed down to the customer to deal with, through problems with the delivered product or service, or it can even go as deep as staff related issues. The ISO certification is really in place to create confidence for the customer, that a product of service will be delivered to a particular standard, and in a consistently professional method, regardless of who is involved in the process. Think of it like a McDonalds fast food restaurant. If you buy 3 burgers, you expect each burger to be the same quality, and made in exactly the same way, regardless of where in the world you buy them.
Now I’m not sure if the McDonald's management system is certified to ISO 9000, but I do know it’s certified, and it works.
The ISO certification reassures everyone that consistency is delivered in every process.
So how do we go about starting this process? In it’s very basic form, it’s a set of procedures that move a customer through the buying journey, whereby everyone follows those procedures identically. Every task is broken down into a set of steps that would tell anyone, how to produce the same end result, regardless of whether it was their first day, or they’d been working there for 35 years.
The first step in the process, is to look at all of the activity in the business. You could break this down, into how you get a new customer, how you order from suppliers, how you deliver on your promises, how you perform any supporting roles such as answering the phones, and how you close out an order, or do your monthly reporting & accounts.
Look at absolutely every process, everyone does in the business. Map every process out.
Follow your staff around. Have them tell you what they’re doing. Do they know why they’re doing it that way? Is this the most efficient way to get the end result? Perhaps they have suggestions on a better way to achieve the same result? Write down and record every process.
The next step is to see if we can automate any of those tasks. Are there any ways to make the process more efficient? Could we remove 5 of the 10 steps in the process by using technology, or perhaps getting external parties to do it. What are the cost implications in each action? If we’re using technology to automate the process, there’ll probably be an upfront investment, but how much will the business save, and how long will it take to recoup that investment.
Using technology doesn’t need to mean installing huge pieces of plant. It can be something small, like adding a page to your website. It could be connecting a software app to your staff mobile phones.
After you’ve done some automation and process improvements, we now have to test them, to make sure there aren't any unseen hiccups before they go properly ‘live’ in the business. You might do this yourself, or you might ask a small portion of staff to test them out alongside their normal routines.
Now it’s time to re-write those updated procedures, and train everyone in the ‘updated’ process. Remember at this point, that people resist change, so we don’t want to completely change everything in the business in a single hit.
Look at one area, perfect it, & let them get used to it, before moving to the next. In actual fact this will turn into more of a cycle. This will be an ongoing ‘update’ on each part of the business. We might work on Marketing first, then supply chain, then product delivery, and then we’ll come back to marketing to tweak and improve something else. Of course, this will be prioritized by where the biggest problems seem to be coming from. Over time, those problems you spent all of your time and energy on trying to sort out, will be a distant memory, and it’ll be yet another step forward in removing owner reliance on the business owners.
Now, this article was never written with the intention of telling you what should be included to get that ISO ‘badge of honour’. Every certification body have their own framework or structure, of how they want to see everything done. This article is written to give you a clearer understanding of how to start that systemising process, with the ultimate intention of removing problems.
When a business is systemised and automated, it means problems, along with repetition, is reduced significantly. This all leads to a more profitable, efficient & saleable business.
In the next post, we’re going to look at the seventh piece of the jigsaw, that you’ll need to sell your business. ‘Operational Plan - The Secret to captaining your ship successfully’, Click here to read it now.
We hope you’ve received some value from this article, and some information that you can use to move forward toward your vision.
If you’re confident that selling your business is the way to go, or perhaps you’re undecided, it’s important to consider the significant amount of effort and resource you’ll need to make it happen. It’s a full time job. - The time investment alone is enough to put anyone off. So imagine for just a minute, that you didn’t need to do all of this work. What if this could be done over the next 3 - 5 years (by someone else). Everything we’ve listed in this article, is what you’d need to do, if you were selling through a business broker, or direct to a buyer.
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