Our Dogma: Streamlining and Creating Systems in your Business

smart dog

We are still developing our employee manual, Our Dogma, as it is a continuing work in progress. It has been a hard balance between being a new and growing business that is just figuring out its processes, and also ensuring we have the procedures in place to ensure things go smoothly. We have experienced great growth over the past few years with the opening of our second location and expansion of our services, but it has been filled with challenges. The majority of these challenges could have been avoided with better documentation of processes. If you are just starting out, save yourself the time and begin documenting all of your processes as you create them. If you have been operating for some time and feel overwhelmed, have challenges holding your team accountable and/or are in the midst of expansion, you must ensure you have your procedures documented.

A good employee manual provides your team with clear instructions on how to complete their job effectively and in an efficient manner. It outlines the day to day operations and also enables seamless training and ensures procedures and processes are available to anyone who may need them. As a small business, we typically have key employees who store a lot of how the day to day operations happen within their own minds ( as business owners we are often the worst for this)! I always think of the what if myself or that person gets hit by a bus? Do we have the documentation in place to seamlessly transfer someone else into that role?

Outlining processes allows you to delegate roles, hold your team accountable to the work they do based on these procedures and helps to ensure things are completed to the standard you set. They should provide clear instruction to avoid confusion and any miscommunication. It also helps with training new team members and keeps everyone on the same page. Your team will appreciate having clear steps and knowing what is expected of them.

The employee manual should provide the history of company, its products and services, the team structure, core values and procedures and processes for all areas. You should include a list of fireable offences and outline the dismissal process. You want to put as much information on the business as possible to avoid miscommunication and keep expectations clear.

I know it is a daunting process, but going through it this past year has taught me a great deal about my business and my team. It has shown me key areas where I can delegate, services or departments that require restructuring, which employees may be struggling or exceling and given me a better understanding of why, and shown me the required organization structure of dogma. A thorough employee manual is also important if you plan to sell or franchise your business.

Growth was excellent for dogma, but also brought on new problems for me. Going though this process is showcasing what I need to develop and what we are doing right. It has also given me better knowledge on how to effectively plan for growth. Having more systems in place and ensuring all operations are documented, will allow for more successful growth in our future.

The end of one year and the beginning of a new year is an exciting time and it should be for all entrepreneurs. Take advantage of the quieter holidays if your company slows down and review your past year. Set goals for the new year and focus on streamlining your business. Do not forget to delegate this to your team! Have them help you by getting them to document their daily duties. This can be a great team building activity. You will see an immediate benefit, and you and your team will be thankful for it!

I am looking at joining a program for further streamlining my business and my role for dogma. If I do, I will share my experiences here!

What benefits have you gained from streamlining your systems or what challenges have you had because things were not well documented? Share any feedback, ideas or stories in the comments below!

Nosework: Strategic Planning for your Business

up close nose

It’s the start of a new year and I love this time for my business. I take a much-needed break over the holidays and it gives me the rest and reflection time to jump right in for the start of a new year! I wrote about Houndsight and Business Planning, which I use as my 3-5 year plan. I review this one every 6 months and make changes/rewrite it yearly. Strategic planning is for my short term goals. I write a brand new plan yearly and review it quarterly. This has become an essential guide for my business and every time I stray from following or reviewing it quarterly, I feel that negative impact on my business. It keeps me focused on my goals and strongly influences dogma’s success. I think of nosework when I think of Strategic Planning as it is for short term goals and can easily change direction depending on how the wind blows. It allows me to track the success of programs and changes in my business, and has also become a great way to get my team more involved in the overall goals and direction for the business.

There are many templates and programs out there for strategic planning, but I am going to outline what I include in mine and the process I take. I only hope that you take this and build your own plan or that this at least encourages you to make this a part of your business, if you do not already. Or to ensure you use it as an active document vs one that you write and file away to collect dust over the year. If you are new to this and feeling overwhelmed, look at templates or software. You can also take Strategic Management courses; many are offered through local business or private schools. There are also some great online programs available. I am actually looking at strategiccoach.com. I will keep you posted if I enroll and share my experience with the program.

As I mentioned, I have customized my plan to highlight the key areas of my business and for where I am at with growth in my business.  For my process, I begin this the beginning of December which is when I review my full plan from last year. I do a massive brain dump  and get my key team members involved in this as well. I create documents for each area of dogma such as group classes, private training, new services, facilities, team, etc. I then have us write down every idea we have for that area – and no idea is too small or too big! We use these throughout the year, but they assist with the planning at this stage. They are a great tool to keep my head clear, but store any ideas that may come up throughout the year! I then begin writing the strategic planning document as outlined below:

Summary:

This section is fairly straightforward and it should be the last piece you write. I cover all areas and write about the successes and downsides of the year before, as well as outlining the strengths and weaknesses of the business at that time. I outline the focus for the upcoming year and our key areas of growth. I always aim to make this inspirational and provide a great snapshot of where dogma is at and what direction we are heading. When I need direction or some motivation, this can be a great section to review.

Review of the Previous Year:

I break this down in sections. In one of them I review the financial situation for the previous year. Where did we see growth or losses? How are our overall profit margins and what are some areas we need to improve on? I also list the new services/items to dogma for that year and list what we stopped. This is also where I outline our strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with this. This shows you what was successful, what was not, helps you to determine why and what you need to focus on for the next year. You will have failed in some areas, so don’t be afraid to record weaknesses. You need to be your best critic so that you can make the appropriate changes to see more growth.

Overall Picture for Upcoming year:

The first section for this one is the themes for the upcoming year. I usually have four themes and they are my key focus areas. For 2014, I had excellence, technology, profit and promotions. I know we feel like every year should involve these, but these were key areas that we needed to improve. The growth of dogma and new team had resulted in lower service that was not up to my standards. We needed to improve our systems and do more to promote, while at the same time increasing our profit margins. We had very low profit margins and in order to manage the growth and continue to expand, I needed to focus on how to increase our profits.

I also list what we need to keep in mind for all that we do that year. For 2014,  the key focus was team training, streamlining systems and I had us ask ourselves, “Is what I am doing, or what my team is doing, making dogma money right now? Is it a priority?” This was a critical part of coaching my management team on what was expected of them. As a business owner, you cannot expect them to be looking at your business with the same perspective, so this was critical to get them to operate their areas more efficiently and help them better understand how the business works and what it requires to be successful.

I also list our focus. What are we always working towards? For 2014, it was education, reputation, standards, positive energy and leading the industry. Projects that increase these areas or align with these goals became our priority. Finally, I outline our overall goals for the upcoming year. This can be everything from new programs, sales goals to specific projects that need to be completed.

Team:

Within this section, I outline our existing organizational structure and our plans for changes/growth for the next year. We have experienced tremendous growth over the past few years, so this is a good exercise for my focus. I went off this plan for the past year, which resulted in increased payroll expenses without the increase in revenue. Not only that, we actually experienced a loss in two main areas of dogma. My lesson was to stay focused on my plan for strategic growth. The end result was poor performance by team members, so after restructuring back to the original plan and terminating some key employees, we are back on track and with good growth! I want to learn from all my mistakes, so took this as another example of why a Strategic Planning document needs to be regularly referred to. During this process, we make plans for key team members, review our training procedures and update our team document which outlines the employee’s progress, motivation, goals, and strengths and weaknesses. We summarize our goals for our team and review our intiative program.

Sales and Marketing:

This is the area where we outline our key areas and plans for marketing/promotional materials. We outline our focus and refer to our Marketing Plan and Social Media plan for the year. We set dates for our large annual events and record events we will participate in. We outline our key messages for that year and what areas we need to promote more.  We also set specific sales goals for each service and any new ones we may be implementing for that year.

Accountability and Goal Setting:

Accountability was a theme from a previous year that has worked its way in as its own section. I use this to motivate my team and set out clear expectations on actually implementing the plan versus just writing it. I was finding that team would be excited to be a part of the planning process, but things would fall apart and not get completed afterwards. I outline expectations and create priority lists for each manager. They must maintain them throughout the year, and it helps us to track their progress and focus. It also helps to keep us on track and has greatly increased completion of projects!

In summary, find a formal process to help you outline your long and short term goals. We make this a fun activity and I take the management team out to Canmore for a night. I want them to feel like they are a part of our growth and success! Taking them away from the city fosters creativity and keeps the mood positive. We have some fun and get some rest away from the busyness of dogma. During this time, we also create vision boards for the business. It is a fun activity and one I find to be incredibly powerful; a topic in itself, so will post more on that at another time!

Does this inspire you and encourage you to write your own plan? What do you include in your Strategic Plan or process? Share in the comments why you may or may not write a Strategic Plan or what you have learned by doing so!