You’re Not The Problem – It’s Your System

by | Jan 10, 2020

Many founders inadvertently become the single point of failure in their business.
Nothing moves until they solve a problem, rescue someone or inject their genius to the situation.
But this simply doesn’t scale.
You reach a point where your own capacity becomes the primary obstacle to the growth and performance of the business. And it’s not sustainable for you either. You might burn out, start making bad decisions or want to throw in the towel.
Well the good news is that you’re not the problem – it’s your system – the processes, practices and tools you have in place to run the business.
Fix the system. Solve the problem.
This doesn’t mean taking yourself out of the equation completely. Rather, getting things running in a consistent and predictable way to make the business more scalable. And make much better use of your time and effort.
Yes, it sounds simple… but it’s not easy.

People issues

Do you get stuck spending too much time dealing with underperformers and employees who seem out of place? If so, then you likely don’t have the right people in the right seats.
The right people means more than people who can do the job. People need to be the right fit for the organisation as well. How many businesses can truly say they have defined a clear set of values which they can objectively hire, reward and fire against? And how many reinforce them day-to-day by recognising those who live by them and calling out those who don’t?
The right seats means having the right organisational structure. And it’s vital to design it based on what’s needed rather than who’s already filling the seats. Does everyone have a clear set of responsibilities and measurable outcomes? Does each function in the business have a single person accountable, so you aren’t stepping on each other’s toes? And is your structure designed for now? Not for three years ago, three years from now or when you 10x your revenue.

Communication issues

If everyone’s not on the same page, it’s likely that you aren’t getting together as a team regularly or effectively enough.
Many organisations are plagued by frustrating, time-wasting meetings. Take the classic weekly team meetings for example. Effective weekly meetings have a consistent agenda. They should involve reviewing progress against the metrics and priorities that matter. And solving issues in a systematic, prioritised way. Call out discussions that go off on tangents.
Consider how much more effective the leadership team could be with annual, quarterly and weekly meetings. Annual meetings to refine the strategic direction and goals for the year ahead. Quarterly meetings to set the key priorities for the quarter ahead (tied to the annual goals). Weekly meetings to track and manage progress against the quarterly priorities.
Not taking these seriously is a performance killer. Weekly meetings should be at the same time/day every week to avoid people scheduling other commitments over the top. They need to be compulsory. Phones out of sight. Everyone focused. If they’re not one of the most valuable activities for the week, you’re not doing it right …

Execution issues

Start with why, what and how.
People are unlikely to buy in to a change if you don’t give them a why. Having trouble getting everyone using your new Customer Relationship Management system? They need to understand how it’s going to benefit them, why it’s important to the organisation and the impacts of not doing so. Even better, they’ll have had the opportunity to shape and contribute to the initiative well before it hits them.
If people aren’t doing the right things then make sure they have a what. In other words, clear measures of success that directly contribute to outcomes. Leading indicators are more useful on a day-to-day basis than trailing ones. For example, a sales representative might have a monthly sales target to hit. But that number represents the outcome, rather than the work they need to do to achieve it. A better weekly measure may be the number of qualified sales calls/meetings they conduct. Calculate this by working backwards from their sales target (e.g. based on average deal size, close rate, etc).
As for doing things right, people need to have a how. Do you have defined (but not overengineered!) processes that people can consistently follow for the key functions in the business? This includes how you market and sell, how you deliver your product/service and how you support customers. Are people empowered to execute the process, but with some controls (e.g. quality assurance, quote reviews) to de-risk critical points? Are process improvement opportunities proven and rapidly integrated back into the ‘one process’?
Sure, implementing systems like these to make your life easier is common sense. Yet it’s uncommon. Often because it requires sustained commitment and accepting increased short-term pain. But that’s better than long-term agony. Especially if you wish to scale the business or reduce the hassles you face as a business owner.
“A great enterprise transcends dependence on any single extraordinary leader; if your organisation cannot be great without you, then it is not yet a truly great organisation.”
 – Jim Collins, Good to Great

Want to learn more?

Start by checking out Traction by Gino Wickman or Scaling Up: Mastering the Rockefeller Habits 2.0 by Verne Harnish.
EOS and Scaling Up books
Featured image by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash.


Starteer is an Australian business advisory practice that that helps emerging and mid-market companies accelerate and sustain growth. We support leadership teams to make the right People, Strategy, Execution and Cash decisions on the way to building valuable companies.

Our services span growth advisory, fractional growth roles and strategic coaching using the globally renowned Scaling Up methodology as a certified practice.

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