3 Simple Techniques for Organizing Business Operations
By Jennifer Craig | November 7, 2012
The everyday management of a business often times becomes overwhelming, especially if the owner is not business-minded or organized. Some of us assume a person would not go into business unless they were business-minded. However, the opposite is true. Most people go into business because they are passionate about something (usually one thing) like fixing cars, buying and selling shoes, creating jewelry, or building houses. Every business owner starts out as a technician or artisan who is excited to get started so he/she can make and sell his or her designs.
Unfortunately, somewhere between startup and the end of the first quarter, reality hits full force and the owner falls into a management slump. What started out as an artistic endeavor has turned into a nightmare of paying bills, invoicing, collecting accounts, estimating taxes, and endless paperwork (orders, invoices, or receipts). There is chaos between wearing the proverbial manager’s hat and the creative one. Everything is in disarray and nobody can find anything!
If this sounds familiar, below are three techniques that can be used in processing anything (from soup to nuts). Together with staff members, the owner can quickly decide what to do with items, work assignments, customer surveys, or paperwork. Once everyone has agreed, a system can be put into place to effectively handle the work. Remember, these techniques work well for tasks, people, and just about anything. They are:
1. Assess all Tasks – from where does the work come (mail, deliveries, reports, orders, checks, raw materials, etc.), how is it handled, and where does it go? Does this sound familiar? (Check out our previous post about IPO).
- First, identify the place from where it comes. “This work order comes to my desk from the Mechanic.” “This job comes from the supervisor.” “This material (for making vanities) comes from the vendor.”
- Next, describe how it is processed. “I total the charges on the work order, enter the work order into my computer (a system), and hold it for payment from the customer.” “I open the mail each morning and separate it.” “I put the wood products in the large wood bins.”
- Finally, decide where the finished work goes. “The work order is filed (by work order number) after payment is received.” “I put the junk mail in the trash, I put the payments in the accountant’s basket, I put the rest of the mail in my supervisor’s basket.”
Once decisions have been made on how to handle the work, businesses can easily write job descriptions, training manuals, and processes for handling all jobs/assignments because managers know what has to be accomplished and who is responsible for each task.
Even though this method is a simple system for assessing tasks, it has to be utilized to be effective. New businesses need to analyze each step to ensure something has not been forgotten, and like any good system, the more you use it, the easier it becomes.
2. Prioritize Tasks – all individuals (to avoid confusion) need to be responsible for this step.
- Prioritizing requires thinking through a sequence of tasks/jobs that occur within a day’s work; weekly (like payroll); or monthly (occasion tasks like reports), listing which is most important and the order they should be accomplished, and keeping the list close at hand.
- When employees (or the owner, for that matter) have a clear understanding of making lists, setting priorities (which items must be done first, so on), they can be more efficient in completing those tasks.
- Nothing wastes time like interruptions – people stopping in the office without an appointment, telephone calls, last minute orders, and crises. Plan in advance for that and instruct employees how to handle those interruptions. Even those can be prioritized.
- Without priorities wheels are spun with little accomplished.
3. Follow Through/Checks and Balance – should be in place for everything that is important to the business. Follow through requires making certain the project is complete to the customer’s satisfaction. Checks and Balances requires a team effort so that one person is responsible for one aspect and the other person checks to see things are done to standard. This is especially needed when dealing with cash or financial information.
- Unfortunately, both are sorely forgotten, especially by small businesses. These two practices can keep a small business from making big mistakes (disgruntled customers or work that hasn’t be completed).
- Large corporations know how important it is to their business so they have systems to ensure projects are completed correctly – like customer surveys, customer service follow-up, internal audits, etc.
- Owners need to instill the practice of follow-through in business as part of normal operations. If a staff member agrees to provide another department with information, it is that staff member’s responsibility to follow through to ensure satisfaction. If internal practices work well, external are more likely to as well. When projects are large, checks and balances are perfect techniques to ensure the work has been done and everything runs smoothly.
- Catching mistakes can save the business money and embarrassment. Accountability is important but many bosses don’t enforce it in the organization. If everyone does his/her job effectively (going above and beyond for the business as well), everyone wins: the business is successful which means more raises and positive community recognition.
Running a business is difficult enough without disorganized workflow (or none at all). When businesses are disorganized, they lose money, have costly staff turnover, lose customers (also related to money), gain a bad reputation (if the problem is severe), and they may end up closing. These three techniques are not a panacea but they are positive management helpers, making organization as easy as one; two; three.
About the Author
Jennifer has over 30 years combined experience in business consulting, human resources, training, organizational development, and entertainment. In the past, she had worked for a variety of organizations including NMSU, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Universal Studios before joining WESST in 1995. Her BA is in Journalism and Mass Communications, and her graduate work is in Training and Development. She was on the founding Board of the local ASPA (SHRM) group, was named SBA’s Small Business Advocate of the Year in 1997; and has illustrated two books. She enjoys writing and painting.