Of course, most of us can tell stories of the failure of systems within our businesses and the results of these failures. Failures involving customers are the most serious and often the hardest to fix.
But, what causes a system to fail? Why should a process which has functioned perfectly for years suddenly stop working?
The simple answer is that the failure did not occur “suddenly”. Typically, the conditions which led to the failure were present for some time before the event. This is often the result of the gradual degradation of the system over time which was not deleted or corrected.
An important part of any system is what we have termed the “policeman function”. As the name suggests, this role ensures that established procedures and policies continue to be applied. It is not that one person is responsible for policing the operation of every system but every system needs a designated policeman.
Ultimately the CEO (or business owner for most of us) is responsible for ensuring that all systems operate effectively. It is easy to assume that the basic systems and the policing function are being applied. Hence the “sudden” failure comes as a shock and is often accompanied by significant finger pointing.
So, what can you do to avoid system failures?
- Document all systems. These days there are far more effective ways to do this than the huge printed policies and procedures manuals our teams tend to ignore. These are hard to maintain and difficult to use. Investigate these options and find the best for your business.
- Assign responsibilities. Who is responsible for performing the basic function and the policeman function must be clear. If you are not the policeman, make sure you periodically review the systems to ensure they are still working.
- Establish accountability. Although assigning responsibility is critical, it is equally important to make your team aware of the consequences of system failures.
- Train. The opportunity for degradation of any system is highest when a new team member commences to operate the system. Relying on the previous operator to train usually produces an incomplete result. Insisting that training is based on the existing documented procedures will ensure completeness and provide an opportunity for a possible update of the procedure.
- Commit. It is important that your team see that you, as the leader in the business, are committed to the proper operation of the systems of your business. Unfortunately, it is often the owner who takes shortcuts which can confuse the rest of your team or at least send the send the wrong message. (And here I must admit to my own short coming.)
Consistent operation of effective systems will;
- Reduce the pain caused by customer services failures.
- Increase your team’s confidence
- Establish accountability
- Invest the time to get it right and reap the rewards.