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Keep it simple in order to stay focused

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Keep it simple in order to stay focused

Scott Miker

Years ago I had a chance to listen to a successful business owner speak about what he did to have the success he had.  He gave a very inspiring speech with valuable business insight but there were two things that he really emphasized throughout his talk.

The first was to keep things simple.  He talked about the complexity that naturally comes over time and that in order to stay focused and rule out distractions we have to simplify.  We have to find the unnecessary complexity and remove it.  Even when complexity exists and we can’t avoid it, we have to find ways to understand the situation in a simplified way to make the best decisions and avoid getting analysis paralysis. 

This was the key to avoiding distraction.  As a small business owner he was faced with an unlimited number of options.  It would be easy to see something with potential and have that pull him away from his core value proposition.  Simplification allowed him to stay laser focused on what he needed to do. 

The other element of his speech that had a big impact on me was his emphasis on the importance of business systems.  He talked a lot about processes and procedures and how he looked at problem solving.  If a problem occurred and there was a chance that it would happen more than once, he immediately shifted his thinking. 

Instead of trying to solve this one problem this one time with the tools available, his team would focus on how to solve the problem from ever occurring again.  This meant they had to understand the root cause and the various factors that played a role in that problem coming up.  It was a different way to problem solve. 

An example he gave highlighted both simplicity and utilizing business systems to solve problems.  He said that when he first bought the business there was a lot of work being done that didn’t have a direct impact on the success of the business.  He called this “nice to have” work. 

“Nice to have” work is the work where we can’t point directly to a cost reduction, increase in revenue or other overt value from doing the work but we justify it because we say it would be nice if we had this information.  This didn’t mean ending the tracking and reporting functions that were important to the business, it meant all of the projects and work tasks that came up that didn’t really create business value.

He implemented a simple system to solve this problem.  He said that whenever someone was working on something, they had to be able to justify it according to one of three categories. 

First was “How does this improve profit?”  Answering this gave a clear indication whether there was value from a cost or revenue standpoint.  If the answer was “it doesn’t” then the next category was looked at.

Next they asked, “How does this improve sales?”  Many times establishing a relationship with a potential customer meant going above and beyond.  These weren’t “nice to have” they were necessary to earn business.  It might be something the potential customer asks to see before they make their decision or something they want to spend time talking about.  Again if the answer was “it doesn’t” then the final category was looked at.

Finally the question asked was “How does this improve Customer Experience?”  This meant both external customers and internal customers (employees).  Improving the experience a customer has can mean building a relationship that has value in the future.  Doing employee picnics could be a way to improve the experience for employees and improve the culture in the company. 

But answering, “it doesn’t” to all of those questions, meant that they were not allowed to work on that project or work task.  This meant that someone could tell their boss they wouldn’t do something if it didn’t meet these criteria.  It also gave managers something to use to make sure employees were staying on track and providing business value for their efforts. 

This was a quick example he shared that cut to the systematic way that he approached problem solving.  It was incredibly simple and would stop specific problems in the company from occurring.  It took time to develop this and to get everyone asking each other the questions but over time it shifted the way they worked and made it much more likely that any given task or project was providing business value and wasn’t just something “nice to have.”

Establishing business systems to solve problems is a great way to move a business forward but can be utilized to also solve problems in our personal lives.  We can take our goals and put in systematic solutions (such as building new habits) so that they don’t keep coming up over and over again.  When done right it allows us to solve a problem and then move on to other problems.