Systems Are for Everyone, Lead by Example


Systems Are for Everyone, Lead by Example

It’s all very well to say you know you want and need systems in your business for sustainable growth. But sometimes, actions can quickly undo the strategy and turn perceived leadership into rhetoric which will ultimately be ignored.

I worked with a client for nearly six months, and in that time, we captured all the knowledge of his business from his head and that of his nine staff by documenting it into simple systems: step-by-step procedures, flowcharts, checklists and templates. I also helped address unacceptable behaviours and bad habits as part of the change management needed for any systems implementation to be a success.

Things were going well. The staff’s expectations were now very clear, backup plans were in place, and everyone was playing their part. Or so I thought.

About a month after full implementation, I walked in and felt a negative change in the air. The place was very quiet, and there wasn’t as much camaraderie as usual. After a few informal chats with staff members who were very guarded in their responses, I pulled the Business Manager aside and asked what had happened.

She told me the owner had gone back to his old ways of skipping processes and changing the order of jobs in the queue. This was his modus operandi to respond to demands from his ‘mate’s rates’ clients who wanted speedy service for a substantially reduced rate.

By constantly changing the priority order of work based on which client rang that day, rather than completing specific processes, several things were being repeated:

  • Increased mistakes.
  • Decreased quality of work.
  • Things were being missed.
  • Confusion was rampant.
  • Staff felt disillusioned and disempowered …. Again.

In one month, the business had gone from one with happy staff who finally knew and agreed on the tasks everyone completed in their specific roles, and how each part fitted into the bigger jigsaw; to a business filled with chaos, discontent and a feeling that nothing had changed after all.


The owner had decided he was above the systems and processes he had desperately wanted my help to develop so, as he told me, “Staff could toe the line and do things properly”. Systems work brilliantly when everyone follows them including those at the top. Unfortunately, as this business owner didn’t lead by example, all the good work I had undertaken within his business was undone in an instant.

So, what’s your attitude and leadership style in relation to following your processes and business systems?

Is it one rule for you and one rule for everyone else?  Or is it one rule for some staff and one rule for everyone else? And when systems aren’t followed, how do you manage that? Because in my experience, if there has been buy-in and ownership from staff and an effective change management process as part of the implementation strategy, then people don’t follow systems for two reasons:

  1. They need more training; or
  2. They ‘choose’ not to follow them which is a performance management issue which must be immediately addressed.

Systems are critical for clarity, consistency and business growth; but as they are all about change, please don’t lose sight of the power that leadership, accountability and responsibility play in successful short and long-term implementation.

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