Friday, March 21, 2014

SOP Friday: Do Not Exclude Yourself from the Rules

We all know that SOPs - Standard Operating Procedures - make your business run better. We all know that we need to train out employees to document procedures, learn procedures, and follow procedures. But all too often, the bosses and owners don't follow the rules we set for our companies.

When we start a new business, we have to do everything ourselves. There aren't many procedures. Procedures evolve over time. And even then, we shortcut the procedures whenever we're in a hurry. It's a natural evolution.

Once employees come along, three important things change for the business owner. First, "I" becomes "We." Second, the owner becomes a team leader. Third, the owner spends a good deal of time getting in the way of her employees.

It can take a long time to build a business up from one person to several. The owner has a tendency to thing of the company as himself. After all:

- I built this company

- I decided when to cut left or right

- I got us here

- It's my company

But when you start hiring employees, "I" not longer does all the work: We do the work. Eventually, the owner hands off some tasks and knows that he'll never do them again. At first, you have to consciously try to remember to use the Royal We. But this becomes easier over time.

Part of the process of being "We" is that you get in the habit of describing your company and your services in those terms. For example, "We like to get full backup before we start a server migration." That's not just one person's good habit. That's what the company does and that's what the client can expect. Many of your best practices can be projected to the clients in this manner.

The owner becomes a team leader automatically with the first employee. But once you have solid SOPs in place, it's the owner's constant responsibility to build up the SOPs as part of the company brand. This is the way we do things. This is what makes us different. This is what makes us who we are.

If team leader isn't blunt enough for you, let me put it another way: The owner becomes the enforcer. Assuming you have good processes, the more consistently you enforce your processes, the stronger your brand becomes.

When everyone does whatever they want, you don't really have a business. You have a bunch of people working together to try to make money. And that's fine. But if you want a business, you need to have consistently reproducible results. To make that happen the owner must become the enforcer of SOPs.

The first real job I had was in a hardware store. I remember both the owner and the store manager used to tell me: "When you have your own store you can do whatever you want. When you work here, you do things our way." And so it is in your business.

Eventually, the business is mature enough to have several employees and several SOPs that are employed consistently. One of the very natural pieces of evolution is that the owner becomes the choke point. Marketing decisions have to be approved by the owner. Office supply purchases have to be approved by the owner. Time cards have to be approved by the owner.

The owner has started to delegate but is still the ultimate decision maker for all important decisions.

Only when you break past this barrier can you business move to the next level. Either you stagnate, or break the limit. It could go either way. With luck, you learn the next level of delegation and learn to delegate authority and not just tasks. When you delegate authority there's no limit to how large your business can grow.

At this point it is very clear why the owner (and now the managers) must obey the SOPs of the organization. That means that you use the ticketing system just as you expect your technicians to do. That means you follow the process for turning in mileage reports, just like everyone else. That means you follow the rules just like everyone else.

When you have a mature operation that runs smoothly, you can really muck things up when you exclude yourself from the rules. First, you can actually make a mess. For example, if you just grab the phone and start answering client questions, you've short-circuited the service delivery process. The service manager and service coordinator don't know what you're up to and you don't know about the other problems or the context of the issue you're working on. Whether they tell you or not, they're mumbling that you should stay out of the service department.

Second, this can lead to bad moral within your company. Watching the boss is a favorite past time. When the boss doesn't follow the rules, everyone notices. Employees will mumble, "Notice that we have to track time in real time but he doesn't." (and many similar complaint) And they will be justified to notice this.

You are building these SOPs for good reasons. Please follow them. Take them as seriously as you want your employees to take them. And more importantly, just get in the habit of doing this as your company evolves. That will make it easier.

It is a very natural tendency to say "I own this place, I'm the boss, and I can do whatever I want." But that attitude will cost your company money and keep you from reaching its greatest potential.

Comments welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

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Next week's topic: Dealing with Unfaithful Employees

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Michael Gerber to Keynote the 2014 SMB Online Conference

I am so very honored that 
Michael E. Gerber - author of the awesome book The E-Myth Revisited -
will be the keynote speaker for this year's 
SMB Online Conference: Systematic Success 2014

Michael Gerber to Speak at the
SMB Online Conference: Systematic Success 2014
The third annual online event is a business focused conference for I.T. professionals, with 12 amazing experts - including Michael Gerber. 

The inclusion of Michael Gerber is a special treat because of his reputation in helping thousands of small business owners successfully transform their businesses into world-class operations
, a goal at the heart of this year’s conference.

Gerber has been called “The World’s #1 Small Business Guru” by INC. Magazine. He has spent over 40 years targeting a niche in the small business market. He addresses through books and speaking tours the specific issues small business owners with technical skills encounter, a lack of direction on the small business skills required to run highly successful businesses.

“Conference sessions will cover processes, procedures, and products small business operators require to be successful. We will primarily teach attendees how to systematically document all of their processes” Palachuk says. He adds that “Documentation is extremely important to build a business model that can operate without the business owner doing all of the work, thus allowing for smooth internal growth, potential business sale, and even franchising.”

The online conference runs June 24-26, 2014. Registrations are being accepted now. Attendees can choose to listen live or obtain access to the recorded sessions. In all, the conference will broadcast fifteen hours of programming over the three days.

To learn more about Systematic Success 2014, visit

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