How to Systemise Your Business To Run Itself

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Having systems in your business is crucial to its ongoing success. This is as important now as it was back in Babylonian times. However, you only have to spend five minutes searching online and you’ll quickly discover that there are many approaches to systemising your business, many experts who will gladly tell you exactly how to systemise your business. There is an ever increasing number of tools, apps and software to help you do this more effectively. So what’s the best way? Is there one best way? Read on…

Where should I start?

A great place to start is to consider:

  • the product or service you offer
  • the market in which you sell your product or service
  • the customer who buys your product or service
  • how your people work
  • what compliance requirements govern how you run your business
  • the risks and benefits that your business faces

A team of company executive presenting reports

For more information on the benefits of systemising your business check out this article

The Product or Service You Offer

The more complex your product or service, the more you will rely on strong systems to develop that product or service. The same applies when you consider how you store, transport and handle the product or what is required to offer your service.

The Market in Which You Sell Your Product or Service

Very simply, the higher the expectations of the market in which you sell your product or service, the greater the need to meet or exceed those expectations. Failing to meet market expectations isn’t a good recipe for success.

The Customer Who Buys Your Product or Service

Of course it is the customer who defines your market, so it is worth thinking of the customer very carefully. After all, the customer is the only person who is buying your product or service.

As the old saying goes, the customer is not always right, but they are the customer. Your systems will need to be strong enough to match your products to the needs and requirements of your customer, just as your marketing will need to constantly monitor changes to these needs and requirements.

How Your People Work

Systems that work well in an office setting are likely to be less effective in a food preparation area, such as an abattoir, restaurant or bakery. The way a mechanic might access their systems will most likely vary from the way a dentist will access theirs. The way people work has a strong influence on the systems they will use most effectively.

What Compliance Requirements Govern How You Run Your Business

If your business is governed by a strong compliance regime, your systems will obviously need to be focused on helping your team achieve compliance. Meeting your compliance targets will therefore be a major focus when you’re considering how to systemise your business.

Importantly, apart from considering industry-specific compliance requirements, every business is subject to compliance in relation to accounting, HR and employee management, workplace health & safety and other standards, codes and legislation, just to stay in business, let alone thrive.

The Risk and Benefits that Your Business Faces

Although this is last on the list, it is the most important. Understanding the risks and benefits facing your business is fundamental to your business success.

The only reason you are in business is because you manage the risk more effectively than your competition (in the eyes of your clients) and that you achieve the benefits more effectively than your competition (again, in the eyes of your clients).

Failing to take into account these risks and benefits when creating your systems is likely to end badly. Maybe not straight away, but definitely somewhere in your business future. So, when you’re thinking about how to systemise your business, start the journey by getting really clear on the risks that you manage and the benefits you achieve. Maintain this focus and you’ll likely be successful. 

Company growth

What Systems Do We Need?

Logic demands that we start with the systems which are fundamental to the business.

We refer to these as the ‘business backbone.’ It starts with a lead, moves through the sales process to a sales order, prompts you to deliver your product or service (and manage all the processes which support this) and ends with being paid.

To stay simple, we usually recommend starting with Marketing, Sales, Delivery and Admin. Every business, from a large multinational to the corner store, has these functions. They can be called many things and broken down in many different ways but the essential business functions are covered by these four areas. You can always change the headings later if you choose to.

The important thing is that you can look at your system structure and clearly identify where each of your systems sit within that structure.

There are a number of ways to work out exactly what processes or systems you need within each of these areas. While we tend to use a mind map to create a big systems picture of the business, you could effectively use Post-it notes, ordering them under each of the systems areas you nominated. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to add detail at this stage. You’re simply trying to get an overall view of the systems you require. You will always feel more in control if you start with a small area and grow your systems from this solid base. Creating an overwhelming, fully detailed map of your business systems is more likely to promote fear than confidence.

Who Will Work on My Systems?

If you were writing a recipe book, no doubt you would be the very person writing every part of that recipe. It’s your recipe, and this is how you prepare this dish. You only have to walk into a bookstore to realise that there are numerous cookbooks, many of which will contain a recipe claiming to show the best way to prepare the same dish as your recipe does. Who has the best recipe? It depends who you ask – each author will doubtless claim to have the very best way of cooking your dish. It’s 100% subjective. And importantly, everyone expects the recipes to be different.

In your business however, the system is to show the one best way of doing each task or process. Variation in your systems means variation in your product or service delivery. This will not please your customers, who want consistency.

The naïve manager or business owner is likely to think that they are the best person to create the systems for the business. There are many reasons why this is not the case, and I’ll only list a few here:

  • You aren’t working ‘on the floor,’ and your ideas and experience are most likely out of date.
  • The value you bring to the business is almost certainly about piloting your business rather than getting caught in the engine room.
  • If you create the systems in your business, there is a good chance that your team will see them as your systems rather than their systems. Which would you prefer?
  • True accountability can only be achieved through ownership. Ownership can only be achieved through involvement. If your team are not involved in creating systems, it is unlikely that they will develop a true sense of ownership. It is even less likely that they will hold themselves accountable for these systems.

It’s easy to illustrate these points. Imagine the boss walking in and giving their employee a folder which they claim contains all the systems the employee will need to perform their job. Human nature says that the employee is likely to feel a little negative, reasonably sceptical, and doubtful that somebody else could describe their job better than they could have done it themself. Correct?

Involvement – zero.

Ownership – most likely zero.

Accountability – Best outcome is ‘reluctant compliance’ (our term for someone saying “Of course I will” when they have no intention of complying with your systems).

Even though it shouldn’t be you, the business owner, creating the systems for your business, it is advantageous to have a single person identified as your Systems Champion. Your Systems Champion will not create the systems on their own. They will, however, act as your agent in assisting and supporting your team as they work with the Systems Champion to create the systems that define your business.

You’ll need to be very clear on the responsibilities you assign to your Systems Champion, and explain these clearly to your team. Some of the key points in getting the best out of your Systems Champion include:

  • Explain to your team that the System Champion’s role is to assist and provide active support, not to become the systems police.
  • They don’t own the systems – the business owns the systems.
  • Allocate time for your Systems Champion to do their job effectively without interfering with other duties they’ve been assigned.
  • Provide guidance and real support to your Systems Champion.
  • Give feedback.
  • Listen to the feedback they give you.

So, having established a systems champion role, who else do we need to involve?

The simple answer is: everyone who can earn their place at the table. By this I mean whoever has the knowledge, expertise or experience that they can contribute to developing the particular systems you’re working on at the time. Avoid involving anyone who cannot or won’t willingly contribute.

There’s usually an optimum number of people who can work productively on systems at one time. Two or three people works well while anything above four or five means that some people will be “watching television” rather than actively participating. Someone sitting at the table but not participating may actually inhibit the process, making the others feel more self-conscious and likely to hold back rather than contribute freely. This is particularly true if someone in authority suggests that they’ll just sit in the corner – “you won’t even know I’m here.” Yes, your team will be very conscious that their boss is sitting in the corner listening to and judging every utterance made.

One last thing about working together to develop systems – avoid “judging” others’ input as you work together. It will always be more effective to jointly assess a draft process than it will be to pull it apart as you are building it. Most people go quiet after two judgemental comments on their input

How Should We Capture Our Systems?

There are many views on the best way to capture your systems, so let’s go back to basics. If you give a page of text to a visual learner, they’ll most likely switch off. Similarly, give a well thought out diagram or flowchart to a read/write person and watch them flinch.

Remember that there are four learning styles:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Read/Write
  • Kinaesthetic

While the average person will have basic competence in all four learning styles, we each have a preferred learning style. You will notice this if you ask one of your team to create the system for completing a particular task. They’ll always come back with the perfect way of doing it. They’ll be able to explain exactly what they’ve presented to you and they will have little doubt that this is the best way to represent that process or system. And of course, they’ll be right – for themselves and presumably others who have the same learning style.

To achieve the most effective learning and application from your systems, they need to be easily understood by all people with all learning styles.

How many times have you heard someone say, “Your systems need top be good enough for anyone, sight unseen, to pick them up, follow them and get the right result.” Try that with brain surgery,

Contrary to what some people will tell you, you are not creating systems for just anyone to pick up and follow without guidance (unless they are quite basic systems). When you create your systems, you should also be thinking of the training that will ensure their success, and the support you will expect to provide the team in implementing them as intended. Implementing systems always involves:

  • Systems
  • Training
  • Support


Miss any one of these elements and you are unlikely to achieve the optimum outcome from your systems effort. You provide the systems, train people in their use to develop competence, then provide ongoing support as they develop confidence in the implementation of those systems.

Begin with Visual

While we recommend that you vary your approach to include all learning styles when implementing systems, we also suggest that you begin with visual. This works pretty well for people driving cars. Whilst there are horns and buzzers to provide auditory clues to guide your driving, the vast majority of the inputs that will help you drive correctly are visual. From the road markings through to traffic signs through to traffic lights, flashing lights and indicators, practically all the guidance you receive when you are driving comes from visual input.

For this reason, the Brain in a Box systems methodology relies initially on a flowchart for each process or system. We will always recommend that you add video, written guides, checklists, forms and the like to support implementation, but the core of our systems remains visual. We can easily add other visual cues to the flowchart – software icons, role tags to indicate who performs a particular step, and the name of ‘props’ used (the checklists, forms, templates, videos, etc). By using these visual cues, the user quickly recognises that the text component of the flowchart is always an instruction or question.

To provide guidance and achieve consistent quality, we recommend that you apply some basic rules – a methodology – to the development of your systems. Don’t over-complicate this though. The Brain in a Box 5 Step Systems only has, you guessed it, five steps.

  1. Define the process
  2. Clarify what is required (outcome)
  3. Recalled the process
  4. Check the process
  5. Launch the process

Yes, there is more to it, but not a lot of complexity. We’ve been using this methodology for well over 20 years and it has served us well so far.

Where Should We Save Our Systems?

As you’d expect, there are a number of options. Each option benefits a particular type of work. Whilst effectively everything is online, there will always be a place for a folder, a poster, a table or guide. Online systems are so versatile, allowing the user to access them via desktop computer, laptop, tablet or phone, essentially without losing any functionality. You don’t have to commit to a single media feel systems, either. They can be made available via multiple media. There will be a time when having a guide and a form in a folder will be the only practical way to access your systems, even though they are also available via the company intranet. Access and ease of use will always be the prime considerations.

There are numerous business intranet options available which provide any number of options to choose from to meet the needs of your business. Commonly available intranet options include Google Sites, Microsoft SharePoint Sites, Atlassian Confluence or Teamwork Spaces, Each of which provides a great deal of flexibility in terms of content, layout and feature set. Numerous other options, each focused on a particular way of delivering systems, abound on the Internet. Just remember that features are only useful if they are used and can be maintained. Super complex Internet sites with half completed pages are going to impress anyone.

As with everything to do with systems, it’s a matter of finding the one that suits you and your business best. There is no one, single, winner.

Along with the question of where to save your systems once you’ve created them, is the question of timing. I’m surprised at how many business owners I’ve worked with who decide to hold back everything until they’re essentially complete. What this means in practice is that your team gets involved and excited when they create your systems, then wait weeks or months until they are completed. By the time they are finally published, the excitement and immediacy has worn off. Sadly this delay often gives the impression that the business owner does not value the contribution of their team.

Our preferred approach is to publish as soon as possible after each process is completed. When we are working with clients, what we map and capture today is published and available to the team today. This maintains a heightened sense of involvement and contributes to greater take-up and sense of ownership amongst the team. Yes, even adults get a thrill out of seeing their work published. And it is that very sense of ownership which will lead to team accountability – exactly what you’re after.

So We’ve Published Our Systems – What Next?

All systems have a use by date and it’s important to capture this review cycle so that you don’t find members of your team using out of date, error-filled processes that have been superseded. It can be as simple as recognising that more complex or higher risk processes need to be reviewed more frequently than basic/low risk processes. As you complete each process, simply assess the next review date based on the number of cycles or a period of time. Note the next review date on your systems and then simply monitor this date to make sure your systems remain current.

In relation to your team, the very people who will implement your systems, don’t lose sight of training and support. Every system will be more effective if the training has been done carefully and ongoing support tidies up any loose ends and stops old habits creeping back.

Catch people doing the right thing with your systems. Always focus on the positive and you’ll see more positive. It works with children and yes, it also works with adults.

In relation to compliance, monitor systems implementation regularly and keep your data in one location ready to be assessed when accreditation comes around. There’s nothing worse than knowing that you have followed a system religiously, but cannot produce any evidence to satisfy the auditor when they conduct a compliance audit.

Lastly, and most importantly, never miss an opportunity to acknowledge the systems-related achievements, performance wins and the good work of your team in applying the systems as intended. The old saying, “What gets measured is what gets done,” comes from the world of systems.

Still wondering how to systemise your business? Be pragmatic. In the words of Arthur Ashe, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

You can learn more about the Brain in a Box approach to systems by reading 11 Steps to Better Systems, available on our website

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