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Learn to monitor and track your systems

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.  

Learn to monitor and track your systems

Scott Miker

In the systems and habits approach to improvement, we learn how to form systems to help us reach our goals. We design the processes, the routines and the habits that take us towards success.

This helps to start changing our behaviors so that we automatically do the right thing. We don’t have to rely on willpower for every positive decision we make throughout the day.

Psychologists have stated that as much as 95% of our behaviors are habitual. This means that throughout our day we are relying more on the ingrained patterns of behavior than we rely on new, unique behaviors.

When we first start to utilize the systems and habits approach to improve it can be easy to keep track of the various systems and habits we adjust in order to get ahead.

But as these become automatic we tend to forget about them. This doesn’t mean we stop doing them, it means we do them without having to consciously think about them every time.

Therefore we need a way to monitor their effectiveness to make sure we aren’t sliding backwards or taking on habits that no longer provide the benefit as they did when we created them.

Monitoring and tracking is important. It clues us into what is happening and tells us what direction we are going. Are we getting better, getting worse? Is there a lot of variation due to outside factors?

As the director of operations for a business, I equate this to being a higher-level leader who is responsible for many areas of the company. We can’t have the level of connection to each process because there are too many. We rely on others to operate the process and manage those who operate the processes.

In this case, the processes within the business are similar to the habits, routines, and daily behavior in our lives. If we look at our own self as a business, we can start to see this.

But most people run their business like a typical sole proprietor. There is one person who owns the company, one employee, one person who pays all the bills and does all the work. That one person is us.

So as this sole proprietor we don’t think we need a system for paying bills, we just do it. We don’t need a system to make sure we are taking part in educational opportunities; we will just sign up for a class if we want to.

Everything then gets determined on a whim. We don’t have processes running things. We haven’t worked the processes, measured the processes, and improved the processes. We simply go through the motions.

But if we decide to take our own life and compare it to a corporation by creating all of these habits and systems, we soon realize that we can’t operate that way on a whim. It is more structured and we determine what is important and then structure our behaviors around that.

We can then break out of the direct relationship to those processes. We put them in place and let them operate automatically. This is the whole point of the systems and habits approach to improvement – automatic and systematic improvement.

Therefore we need ways to monitor the systems and habits we created to know how they are performing.

In my role, I have either developed or worked with others to develop the processes to run the operations of the business. But I can’t just assume all processes are followed and everything is running smoothly.

So I have ways to monitor the health of those processes. I have metrics that I use to clue me in to what is happening. I can then use those to spot problems before they become problems.

About a year ago I realized there was an area that I wasn’t properly monitoring and tracking and it hurt the business.

We have a process for handling the repairs of returned products within 90 days. We started to get a few new customers and new projects and suddenly we didn’t work through the 90 day units as we should have been.

It made sense at the time. Those can wait while we try to get caught up on another, more important area.

But we kept bringing on more and more work and weren’t getting caught up enough to justify shifting gears to the 90 day units. So they built up and created a bubble.

Once we realized what was happening we investigated how it happened. We had a process to work through them systematically. It was up to a few individuals to operate that system. But when we told them to skip it for a few days it started to build up and they abandoned the process all together.

So we went in and adjusted the system and then added a layer on top where I could track the 90 day units on a daily basis. This way I can quickly see if the backlog level rises suddenly or we put off doing them to try and get caught up somewhere else.

All of this work paid off recently when we started to have a similar issue arise. We were getting slammed with work and the individuals responsible for keeping up with the 90 day units were told to hold off to get caught up in other areas.

Suddenly the units were bubbling up again. But we were able to catch this before it became too problematic because we were monitoring the backlog. We again adjusted the processes for working through them and who was responsible for working through them.

We were able to stop it from becoming an overwhelming problem because we had the proper monitoring and tracking systems. It alerted to an area that wasn’t being done properly and allowed us to make quick adjustments to get it back on track before it became an even bigger problem.

This same mindset can apply to our personal lives. We can build the right routines and habits and then have ways to monitor and track them. This allows us to keep building new, better ways of doing things and then stop focusing on them as they continue on and on.

We can break away from the sole proprietor mindset by creating better recurring behaviors and then monitoring those behaviors, just as a small growing business will shift from the owner doing everything to having staff that perform those functions on a regular basis. As a business leader, we still need to be responsible for the actions of the business. Using the systems mindset and having proper monitoring and tracking systems in place can be a great way to keep improving and getting better – in your business or in your personal life.