Do your processes have your business at a dead end?

Dead End?

photo by Nicholas Canup via flickr

Clear, documented, easy to follow processes are critical to business success…but they could also be a reason why you’re struggling right now.

For a business to grow, systems and processes are the cornerstones in creating a scalable business.  Everyone knows the story of how Ray Kroc bought a small chain of hamburger restaurants from the McDonald’s brothers and turned it into one of the largest franchises in the world.

What most people don’t recall is that it was the McDonalds brothers, Dick and Maurice who actually pioneered what they called the “Speedee Service System”.   This was the initial process that captured Ray Kroc’s attention and sparked the vision for what was possible.  The McDonalds started the idea, but it was Kroc who expanded the idea to systematize not only the food delivery segment, but every segment of the business.   By creating efficient, repeatable ways of doing business, he saw the potential to make it much more than a small local chain of hamburger restaurants.   It would be the tool he would use to create a “How to manual” so every franchise could provide a similar experience at every restaurant regardless of location.

So what does this mean for your business?   There are few businesses operating without a number of systems or processes in place – they may not be documented, but they’re there. With a little effort you can identify numerous procedures you have systematized in your business. Which is a great start – congratulations, you’re already on your way to being a protege of Ray Kroc.  Having a formal way of doing things…your system is the right way to make sure you and your team consistently do the most important work the right way.

However there’s also a dark side to getting too much into processes. Once a procedure is established a company can get so focused on repeating that process, they will discount any other way of completing the task even if it means a better way of doing it.   The entire business gets fixated on completing the repeatable process and they block out other possibilities or considerations, because it doesn’t follow the established cookie cutter approach.

Why is this? How does a once creative business full of energy and new ideas become a stagnant company repeating the same routine procedures day in and day out?   Their growth stalls and they have no idea what is causing the resistance.   Has your business ever experienced this?

Currently AT&T has a popular “Rethink Possible” commercial series that features an adult posing questions to young children.  They are simple questions that an adult would answer with little thought.  Through experience, an adult is quick to jump to what they know and end up giving the logical answer.  But for this young audience there are no preconceived limits holding them back.  Their answers show the creative mind of a child and challenges the viewer to rethink what is possible.

This stagnation unfortunately is what can happen in every business; even yours.   When your business is young, like the children in the commercial, you question everything.  You didn’t know any different and asking questions is one way you’ve learned.  But as your business matures you gain experience; you became an expert in your field, and you have fewer things to question because you already know so much.  Regrettably, it is when some companies reach this level of expertise they stop asking questions.

The once innovative processes used to grow the business stops working and improving.

Questions aren’t asked. The company stalls.

What can you do?

Here are 3 simple suggestions any business owner or professional may want to consider to see if their current processes are holding them back.

1)      Think like a kid, ask lots of questions.   

  • Forget about all the current processes you have in place and start asking yourself questions about everything, just like you did when your business was young, before you knew everything.

2)      Use internal resources

  • If you have different departments, bring employees from other departments into the picture.  Have them observe and provide input.  Have them review the current processes in place.  Do they see opportunities or roadblocks?

3)      Get a fresh perspective

  • Invite someone from the outside into your business.  You may be surprised what a fresh set of eyes may see.   Maybe you know another business owner that would be willing to exchange this process evaluating experience with you?

Whatever you do, continuing to just repeat your existing “perfected” processes day after day without questioning why you do them isn’t the best way to keep your business moving forward. Especially in today’s environment of constant change.   Those once cutting edge processes may have evolved into procedures that are today actually holding back the potential of your business.

What do you think?  Could this be happening in your company?  Please share any thoughts or suggestions you have in the comments below.  As always we value your opinions.

Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach