In my practice as a corporate employee I worked in an environment where downsizing was the rule and not the exception. This activity seemed to be consistently taking place throughout each quarter of the year.
During a conference call, someone asked this question to a member of the senior management team,”How do you recommend that we work toward our objectives given that we are losing resources but are tasked with producing the same level of results?” The answer given was one word, “Automation.”
That call ended shortly afterwards and there wasn’t much explanation given with any level of real detail. No actionable steps or roadmaps were recommended or suggested. We were all left feeling like we had not learned anymore than we knew before the call.
But to me, being a software developer in my life outside of the company, it made sense because I had understood it many years prior to hearing it on that day. That is because when you develop software at any level, you know the power of utilizing hardware and software to accomplish different task. Task that use to require people on payroll can now be automated with software programs that accomplish the same goals.
The advantages are tremendous. A few of them are as follows:
- Software and computers do exactly what you, the developer, programs (tells) them to do. People on the other hand often tell you one thing and do what they want. We can be reliable, but we are only human.
- Computers and software do not stop working unless you stop them (Most of the time). People require breaks during the workday and need to sleep at night.
- Computers and software do not ask for pay increases (although, investments are required to stay current and efficient). People request pay raises every year (and need them to maintain their lifestyles).
I am not suggesting that companies should replace all their people with computers and software. What I am suggesting is that when systems are used for automation you can solve a lot of your business problems. Systems do not only mean computers, software or something mechanical. A system could be the way that you approach an objective or task, or in other words, a business process. For example, the first 3 things that you do when you get out of bed in every morning are your morning routine, habits or your process. Essentially this is your personal system. You’re probably thinking to yourself, is he going to teach me how to automate brushing my teeth? Don’t worry, I am not. Not today anyway.
What I am going to say to you is that documented business processes are also a type of system. They are a set of instructions that you create and make them available to someone else in your business in order to automate one or several tasks. Tasks that resolve a problem in your business. For example, what if you had an issue where customers were visiting your website’s contact form, submitting request, but not always getting follow-up from your staff of three people? You might say, I’d just tell my staff verbally to make sure that they respond to every message that comes in from the website. Your staff will say ok, it won’t happen again and you accept that and get on with running your business.
This seems like a logical solution, but it really is a recipe for inefficiency and a guarantee to repeat the issue. Why? Let’s examine what really happens in this scenario. Your staff points fingers at one another, they act clueless as to how this happened. They then reassure you that it will not happen again, everyone smiles and moves on with their day. For a few days, you do not get any additional complaints from customers about this issue, and you assume that the problem has been resolved. This is an illusion brought on by short-term behaviors of both you and your staff because the scenario is fresh in everyone’s mind.
However, a week later, another customer complaint comes in for the same issue and you find yourself having the same conversation with your staff and receiving the same response. Now some business owners would say, well that is the type of thing that I should be doing as a business owner anyway. This is a very common perception. Almost as common as the perception that it will only take me a few minutes to say something to your staff about this when it happens and that is good enough. If you want to continue spending your days dealing with tasks like this over and over again all day everyday then enjoy yourself but do not expect anything to change ever. What is wrong with this picture? Several things as follows:
- You’re wasting valuable time as a business owner by addressing the same issue multiple times with the same outcome.
- There is no accountability to you or the business from your staff when the issue occurs which may lead to further abuses.
- Your business is missing an opportunity to generate revenue because these customers are being lost maybe forever.
- The absence of documented process.
There is any easy fix to this problem. You guessed it. It is documenting a business process for dealing with website submissions. It seems unreal that something as simple as writing down what you expect from your staff could resolve this issue for good but it can. Follow these steps to automate this task and solve the problem:
- Ask your staff (together) how they feel your company could best prevent this issue from happening again.
- Decide on a set of instructions that is best for your business given the feedback from your staff and your vision.
- Place a date on the document and share it with your staff and let them know that from this day forward, they should follow the steps in this process when dealing with website submissions.
- Review and update the process as needed going forward.
You just automated a problem in your business that should now run on autopilot freeing you to do more important things in your business such as finding more customers and bringing in more revenue. If you have never done anything like this in your business before, it may take some time for you and your staff to get comfortable with it but it will be well worth it over time as you save hours of time in the long run.