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How to create powerful systems

Business Systems

6 min read

I was reading an email from a client asking about systems.

People are always asking us about systems. And so few truly get what they are.

There was something about her question that caught my eye – maybe it was the way she phrased it, maybe I was reading too much into it – but she was more than a little confused about what a system actually was.

Her question was, “How many steps should a system have?”

I think I knew what she was asking. And I could have given her the appropriate answer quite quickly. But, I knew there was a deeper concept that could be gleaned if she were prompted to think about systems in a whole new way.

She had fallen prey to a very common misconception: the idea that a system is just a document that tells people how to do things, and in what order to do them.

We hear it pretty regularly from people after they’ve read The EMyth Revisited.

“The book was great, now I just have to get systems in my business. I need to put systems in place.”

Sounds great, doesn't it? These people have no clue what they are talking about.

Of course, it’s a great first step to understand the need for systems in a business, but what most people forget is that they already have systems in place. What they mean when they say they need systems is, “I need to create documents for my systems.” At EMyth, we call those documents action plans. Some call them procedures or processes. But an action plan and a system are two different things.

Semantics, right?

Wrong. "Semantics" is what people say when they can't make a clear enough distinction, and this is a distinction you need to get.

What this issue highlights is the unhealthy relationship that most business owners have with the systems in their business. Especially after reading The EMyth Revisited!

Most business owners we talk to tend to incorrectly think that getting their systems documented is the ultimate goal, rather than the means to reach a goal.

Good system/bad system

First, let’s define the word system.

A system is a repeated course of action – a way of doing things – that brings about a result.

Think of how many things you do on a daily basis.

You brush your teeth.
You take the same route to work.
You open your email and scan for the emails that you really need to read.


But here’s the kicker. There are intentional systems and unintentional systems. Good systems and bad ones.

Here’s an example of an intentional system: You go out on a sales call and meet with your prospect.  You greet your prospect and you begin to ask them questions about their situation and their needs. 

You are gathering information that will enable you to make them an offer.  You’ve been doing this for years.  The routine is automatic.  It is all in your head. You’ve crafted it in order to get the exact result that you want. 

You’ve created an intentional system. It just happens to be stuck in your head. We’d say you should write that one down!

An unintentional system, on the other hand, can be detrimental to your business!

I’ll give you an example.

A prospect comes to your counter and says, “I’m looking for a digital camera,” and your salesperson, referring to his sales training binder, commences to tell your prospect everything they ought to know in order to make an informed decision. After a few minutes, your prospect finds an opening and says: “Thanks. I’m just going to keep looking.” 

It would be so easy to blame it on the economy, or a clueless salesperson. But really, you have a system. It wasn’t intentional, but you’re getting a result – a bad one. You actually have a system that is keeping people from buying your product! The system is that your salesperson has no idea how to stay focused and truly serve people's needs. He does it every time. Maybe all of your salespeople do this. Maybe they learned it from you.

You may have no idea how it got there. But it’s a system nonetheless.

So what? Are we trying to put your business under a microscope and reveal how flawed it may be?

Yes!  That’s part of what we do here at EMyth Worldwide.

The real power of a system

You need to understand that systems are all around you. And they have the power to breathe life into your business – or cripple it.

You need to shift your mindset from thinking that a system is merely “a list of steps” to believing it is a way to harness the unfathomable potential that exists within your business.

Think for a moment on this quote from The EMyth Revisited.

“Systems run the business, and people run the systems.”

When I read this quote for the first time, I marveled at its brilliance. I laughed aloud at the fact that I had never seen this concept stated in such simple words. I drew a little diagram on the side of the page to illustrate it.

But I misunderstood its intention.

You see, I took it to mean, “Systems run the business, and people serve the systems.”

But that’s not the idea at all! It says that people run the systems! They’re in charge of the systems. People innovate the systems when necessary.  They use the systems as a way to run a business, not abdicate authority.

People are the power behind the systems. The systems are their levers, not their replacements!

Your business has enormous potential because you and your people have enormous potential!

And when your people have the freedom to find the most effective way to complete their job, not only will they take pride in their work, they’ll never stop making the systems better.

Now, you may disagree. Maybe you don’t see your people taking that kind of initiative.

Fair enough. But have you told them what the result of their position is? Do they know what their larger purpose in your company is? Or do they think that their job description is to follow a bunch of steps on a page? Do they have any reason whatsoever to be inspired?

How might the salesperson in the example above have changed his approach if he knew the result of his sales pitch was to keep the prospect engaged in conversation – not just lecture them on a product?

When your people understand that the systems they follow are really a means to an end – and that they are expected and empowered to reach that end result – that’s when they feel their value to your company. That’s when they’ll start thinking differently about their job. That’s when they start looking for ways to go above and beyond the call of duty. That’s when they start creating systems that serve them – systems that serve as an expression of their potential.

And isn’t that what you want? Systems – and people – that produce great results?

Here are some simple tips that can help you and your staff make systems work for you.

1.    Begin tomorrow with this phrase stuck in your head:  “Everything that I see in my business is actually a system.” 

2.    Identify a good system in your business.  Something that you or someone else does that gets the result you want. If it’s not yet documented, document it!

3.    Find one hidden, unintentional system in your business – even if it’s small – and examine why it is yielding undesirable results. Think about how it could be changed to get the correct result.   

4.    Observe your staff as they do their work. If you see someone following a system, but not getting the desired result, remind them that they have the freedom to change the system in order to get the best possible result! Then make sure they capture those changes so the results can be repeated.

If you try to fit your business into the systems you’ve created, your business will shrink to stay within the box you’ve built for it. But when systems are used to support the vision and the passion of you and your people, then your company can be built higher than you ever thought possible.

EMyth Team

Written by EMyth Team

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