Growth is a unifying pursuit that most, if not all, companies and organizations embark upon. The fundamental nature of growth is encapsulated by American writer William S. Burroughs who said, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” This pursuit sits at the forefront of the minds of decision-makers with the primary benchmarks being increased revenues and profits.
With growth at the top of the priorities list, most companies operate in a hierarchical model with regard to how resources are led and the typical organizational structure requires considerable effort in order to move work forward. It is inevitable that “improvements” will be sought out as managers coach team members and as leaders pivot in their strategic efforts, but what could be accomplished if companies replace growth in financial status with growth in proficiency and efficiency as the top priority?
Focus on Systems First
I think one of the least favorite musings in business is over “standard operating procedures” or “SOPs.” I remember in my first company, a partner of mine who spent his career in the military came into a leadership role and very quickly began overseeing the development of SOPs. We lacked a lot of structure, so it was a welcome endeavor, but I learned very quickly that they were virtually useless. In addition to it being nearly impossible to get team members to write them, the procedures were seldom referred to and always seemed to be out of date.
I hated SOPs just as much as our employees did and, eventually, we stopped creating new ones and trying to keep old ones up-to-date. Having since adopted a systems solution that works, I realize the biggest problem with SOPs: they are primarily a reference document and are not very actionable.
In 2017, our team adopted a new workflow, task and project management solution that effectively replaces the need for SOPs. Now, procedures are kept up-to-date and they serve as a tool for team members to execute their work. After using various tools in the past and performing research on currently available tools, we settled on Asana and we couldn’t be more pleased with our results.
Allowing Systems to Drive Performance
On average, a team member in a knowledge-based role spends more than 60% of their time collaborating, communicating and gaining access to resources in order to be effective at their job.1 That means workers spend less than half of their time actually doing the important work that moves an organization toward its growth goals.
In a recent survey, Asana users reported a 45% boost to their productivity after adopting Asana as their workflow management solution. For our team, we did not establish metrics to gauge our own boosts in productivity, but we did grow from three staff members to nine in 18 months and we saw a 109% increase in our revenues after the first year of using Asana.
We view and treat Asana as the foundation of our company. Asana is the single repository that we use for SOPs, to-do’s, meeting agendas, team member evaluations, budgets and performance tracking, project management, prospecting and sales, keeping track of established and needed process automations, reporting on business problems, planning initiatives and so much more. Asana has allowed us to all but eliminate the use of email for internal team communications while everyone spends 80% of their time working remotely.
Three Ways to Capitalize on Value Created from Systems
We have identified three primary ways a company could capitalize on improvements in efficiency delivered from the use of more effective systems, but in our eyes, one stands out as a clear favorite.
For starters, a company could realize enough time savings from effective systems to lay off staff and maximize profit. Going back to the notion that if you aren’t growing, you’re dying, we’d prefer to keep these resources on staff and find other ways to utilize their skills.
Another clear option for getting more out of your team’s newly freed-up time is to slow the hiring process as sales grow and rely on the existing team to do more. In our view, this further pushes the bar with regard to what we expect out of human productivity and we think this comes at a cost – not a benefit. Keeping employees happy and engaged is more important than extracting fractional amounts of productivity from their time.
Our favorite way to realize improvements in efficiency amongst our staff resources is to focus on their self-improvement as our highest priority. Because we use Asana for real-time evaluations – checking progress on stated individual goals on a bi-weekly basis – we can clearly spell out initiatives for each employee with deadlines and actionable steps. We go a step further by asking direct reports to tell us about the personal goals they are comfortable sharing and work to help them accomplish those goals as well.
While individual improvement is a catalyst for team success, where we’ve actually found the most value is by using our extra time to improve experiences and outcomes for clients. For our team, we track internal and external business problems as they occur and use that log of problems to create new procedure templates, training materials, and resources to prevent future occurrences of those problems. We also identify ways to communicate more clearly, frequently and effectively with our clients as they interact with our brand. Much of this communication is automated, so we’re able to resume our pursuit of improvement once we’ve established the necessary automation. A good bit of this automated communication is also designed to introduce ideas to existing clients that may lead to future opportunities for us and business improvements for them.
How Systems Can Add Real Value to a Company
As you can see, more effective systems, better systems management and a focus on improvement as the top priority can lead to tremendous business improvements that secondarily lead to expanded revenue and profits. We like to think that we’re building business sustainability into our organization as we embrace this mindset and embark on this work. Each and every day, Asana becomes a more useful tool that serves our organization in an even greater capacity. But this isn’t all the value we create with better systems.
In addition to better people, more revenue and healthier profits, companies that adopt smarter workflow management also build a substantial intellectual property that increases the enterprise value of an organization. Whether the sale of your company is imminent or not, building better systems now can deliver on your top and bottom line while also increasing the real value of your business.
Will Melton is the president and chief digital strategist at Xponent21, a digital marketing and business solutions firm serving small to Fortune 500 companies across the globe. Will is passionate efficiency in all aspects of business and focuses his time on educating businesses about digital marketing and developing better systems for businesses to run on.