I received a phone call last week from a very special client; now a good friend. His excited first words were, “Philip, I did it. I got rid of my “sacred horse!”
Hmm? I didn't know my client had any horses, “You got rid of your WHAT?”
“I finally got rid of my sacred horse," he repeated. I was still puzzled, but something was definitely different in his voice from the last time we talked. He had been pretty frustrated with business concerns then, as he tried to bring order to his operations.
“It was a hard decision,” my friend continued, “but, just like you described in your book, I had to make the tough decision to let my ‘sacred horse’ go—you know, MICHELE!” (Not her actual name.)
I finally understood what he was saying, “You mean you let go of your sacred COW—not HORSE,” I offered, hoping my erupting laughter wasn’t putting a damper on his enthusiasm. I was well aware of the importance Michele had been to my client’s operation. But, he just joined in the laughter. He was obviously relieved of what had been a burden for him—and his company.
In my book—“System Busters”
—I tell the story of a once key player in my own company; one I had also feared losing. I had depended so much on this person, I was sure if they ever left our company we would be in big trouble. Others in our company had the same fears.
So, like many owners, I had danced around the issue and made special provisions for this “special” employee—what some also called MY “sacred cow.” This person was knowledgeable about every facet of our production, and was so “crucial” to my company, I allowed them to get away with things others could not—even at the risk of alienating my entire crew.
That had to change. And it DID—when I learned the power of systems!
Now, back to my client...Over the past year, I’ve spent more than 400 hours with him and his employees, building and implementing systems to bring order to his business. His “sacred cow,” Michelle, was the go-to person for almost everything; she wielded a lot of power in and over my friend’s business and, for reasons I would learn, often worked 10-14 hours per day. It seemed without HER, the company could barely function.
My client and I spent long hours with Michelle, helping her to convert the detailed information she just carried around in her head into a written “Daily Routine Checklist” and a “Master Quality Control Checklist.” There were many tasks, steps and variables my friend had given her charge over, but it only added to his concern that Michelle was somehow irreplaceable. But, what Michelle did was not hard to understand, once it was written down in detail.
One of the control checklists we began building—for setting up a New Project—turned out to be nine pages long. Michelle had prided herself on remembering each of the complicated steps in each process, but human beings often forget things and mistakes are made that can be very costly.
After we completed the checklist, I said to my client, “No wonder you were losing money on jobs and making so many mistakes! How could anyone remember even one page of this, let alone nine pages?”
Many times, my client had 10 different projects in process. Imagine the chaos!
Truth is—a checklist was needed. Checklists don’t forget steps or details!
After building and implementing these systems, my client was excited that he could finally understand what everyone in his company did, and when they did it. Now he had control of his operations through the power of systems.
Sorry to say, his “sacred horse,” as he called her, didn’t see it that way. With systems, Michelle was now accountable for mistakes my client could easily see could have been avoided. Was she comfortable working in chaos? One thing I know: in a chaotic environment, it’s easy for one to hide in the messes and point fingers at others when mistakes happen.
According to my client, Michelle would not adhere to the new systems; she didn’t like them. So, they parted ways and he was able to hire someone who embraced systems and order in his business.
Is there a “sacred cow” in your organization—someone who might be a deterrent to the growth of your company, i.e. resistant to new ideas or new technologies, clinging to comfortable old habits, maybe a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants or “my way or the highway” mentality that needs a long, honest look?
A few days after my client’s enthusiastic “horse” call, he called me back even more excited, “Things are running better than ever, and more of my employees are buying into these tools of order!”
Did I mention? Great systems work!