One of my favorite clients is obsessed with improving his business, which is something many business owners pay lip service to, while continuing the same old thing week after week. Maybe it’s a side effect of seeing technology disrupt industries, watching new marketplaces like Uber and Airbnb grow exponentially year after year or the fast paced world of startups, but these days innovation is the name of the game.
Whether you set out to innovate an industry by changing the rules or simply keep on top of your own projects by finding the best practices and implementing them, at the heart of innovation is continual improvement throughout the business.
Which is why I find it perplexing so many businesses who say they want to innovate to stay ahead of the competition, attract the best employees and improve sales don’t build on a foundation of systems from the very beginning. If you’re thinking of systems as those dusty 3-inch binders full of rules and footnotes with even more rules, then it’s time to see systems in the 21st century and observe how they drive innovation.
You can’t improve what you don’t measure
Want to double your sales, get more engagement on social media, increase customer satisfaction, or become the top-rated business in your category on Yelp? Well, you could throw thousands of dollars at new solutions, but if you don’t actually know how well you’re doing now and what’s working, then you might just waste a lot of time and energy.
After all, if you don’t know what currently drives social media engagement, change for the sake of change could stop everything that’s working and make your numbers worse. Everything has to begin from a place of measuring your results and what drives those results, for better or worse.
One of the most underestimated benefits of systems is tracking how things actually happen in your business (from submitting payroll to stocking shelves) and looking for improvements.
Systems eliminate aberrations from policy
Have you ever introduced a new policy or rule at work and then realized half the staff has ignored the change and continued with the old way of doing things? How can you ensure your updates are actually working if they’re not done consistently?
Systems give your employees a resource to reference – whether they’re brand new or senior staff – and eliminates excuses such as “I forgot about that” or “I missed that meeting.”
Not to mention, unequally applied business practices are confusing for your customers and leave clients wondering what is going on day to day.
Finally, systems enable repeatable processes
It’s very unlikely your innovations will be perfect the first time around. It often takes many iterations. In order to evaluate change, the processes need to be repeated the same way every time by following a system, so you get the true measure of their effectiveness.
If, for example, you theorize a personal telephone call after each new customer purchase will lead to an increase in sales, you may want to call every customer for two months. If 60 days pass and you realize you’ve only called 10 percent of your new customers, then you can’t be sure if the strategy has failed or simply the implementation of the strategy.
The beauty of constant growth and innovation is in taking a system and refining it day after day after day as you learn and measure what works for your industry, brand and company. Without those systems in place, business transformations are little more than a shot in the dark. True innovation requires knowing what to measure and establishing a consistent system for the best results.