Newsletter#13: Working on the business vs working in the business


You can tell the difference between people who are passionate about their business, whether those are big or small businesses. Small business has one advantage over big business – the owner is closer to all activities than the CEO of a big company. If the owner is passionate, this rubs off on everyone.

This week I stayed in a large hotel in Cape Town. Usually I choose small b&b’s and guesthouses because I like to feel the local flavour of the area and I’ve always experienced that more in small owner-run places. But this week I was lecturing and stayed on in the hotel where the conference was hosted. I was pleasantly surprised because the place ran like well oiled machine.  Staff were so friendly I wanted to take them home with me. People couldn’t do enough. Everybody went the extra mile without being asked. The only real chaos was when 400 people descended on the breakfast buffet between 7:00am and 7:45am before the start of the many simultaneous conferences during the week. How did the GM get everything so right?

In the E-Myth, Michael Gerber tells of a similar experience, also at a hotel, and uses this to illustrate the importance of systems in a business. When there’s a refined, perfected system in place to deliver each and every element of the customer experience, the job of running the business is so much easier for the manager (or owner). The acid test of bullet proof systems is whether or not the business is able to cope with peak demand and satisfy every single customer touch point experience.

Getting your systems right is the result of a simple change in focus from the owner or manager.

Most managers focus on what needs to be done. What occupies the manager (or owner)’s mind is the number of orders that need to be dealt with that day, making sure there is sufficient stock or raw material to cope with demand, and dealing with staff. They fill their time with meeting demand and coping with what needs to be done. That’s most people out there. And that’s what we call working in the business.

The change in focus comes when the manager or owner starts working on the business on top of doing their daily job. This means critically analyzing how things are done in the business. Instead of what needs to be done, the shift in focus causes the manager to focus on how things should be done.  Instead of just getting the work done and the orders filled, the manager now focuses on constantly improving the systems that deliver the work, and fill orders with three objectives in mind: consistency, predictability and reliability.

I’m not talking about driving throughout, improving productivity, or ramping up efficiency. All I’m talking about to begin with is a focus on systems that produce the same results time and again, no matter who is in the office, and no matter how full your order book is.

Once the systems are in place, and the systems are being followed exactly as designed time and again, the manager can shift the focus from creating systems to improving the systems that you’ve created. Now you can add new dimensions to your approach. Now you can start building better systems that improve efficiency, while at the same time adding customer value.

These two topics – Creating and Improving  Systems; and creating Customer Value are entire disciplines in themselves. Your job is not to master them on day 1, but to begin to understand the impact of well designed systems on your business. At Imagin8, we transformed an organization from one with no systems to one with reliable systems, and in so doing we reduced our workload per transaction from minutes to milliseconds, and at the same time we improved our customer experience in terms of the quality, on-time delivery, and frequency of the information we provided. We also improved the reliability of each of our service offerings and improved throughput by over 1000%.

Now we’re helping other SME’s do the same in their businesses.

Achieving Radical results comes from a simple shift in focus from working in the business to working on the business. From asking what work needs to be done to asking how the work should be done. Implementing bulletproof systems is the first step to a solid business.


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