Originally Published in Small Biz Bee by Mary Feng | April 7, 2012
Many startups overlook the importance of establishing business processes. In a founding team’s scramble to develop a product or service and go to market, developing structure often (understandably) takes a backseat to other priorities. However, growth and long-term success demand processes, and it is never too early to focus on building them.
Why does process matter?
Imagine that the employee who manages your human resources function quits tomorrow, your sales volume explodes overnight, or your bookkeeper takes an unanticipated one-month vacation. Would you be prepared? Like insurance, a formal set of business processes protects your business from the unexpected. By formalizing and memorializing processes, you can ensure that not only is work performed efficiently and consistently, but that any employee can step in during unforeseen situations to keep the operations running smoothly.
At Consero, an event-development company where I manage operations, we nearly tripled the size of our workforce from 12 to 30 employees in the span of a year. During that time, our revenue surged 400%, and the volume of our events nearly doubled from 7 to 13. Given the company’s focus on continued aggressive growth, we would not have been in the position to cross both industry and geographic verticals if we overlooked the importance of establishing business processes. After creating Consero’s 485-page process manual, here are some of the steps I followed along the way:
1. Assess the organization’s functions
The first step is to dissect each department by analyzing exactly who is at your company and exactly what responsibilities belong to whom. Not only does this step take a magnifying glass to your business operations, it allows you to capture the necessary facts before you proceed.
2. Survey your team
Ask your employees what they do all day, focusing specifically on tasks that are repeated. Make a copy of documents they use to stay organized. Take notes when you observe their best practices. Ask for honest opinions on where there may be inefficiency. And most importantly, invite open feedback. What you learn from your team directly will provide the guidance and clarity into what is useful versus what is missing.
3. Oust the unnecessary
Once you have a handle on what work is required and what work is being done, purge your organization of inefficiencies quickly. In some cases, that means eliminating the entry of the same information in multiple places. In more extreme circumstances, that means eliminating employees. In any case, it is always better to make the necessary call early before the problem further stunts your growth.
4. Write it down
This will inevitably be the hardest part. Drafting processes is a painstaking exercise in itself, let alone in conjunction with performing your other day-to-day tasks. Set an hour a day aside to transcribe your notes into fluid procedures. Build a dictionary of company terms to ensure consistency as you write. Gather supporting documents as references for exhibits. And simply keep at it until you have covered all bases.
5. Continuously reflect and incorporate
Building a process manual is not an effort that is ever truly complete. As the business evolves, so too must your process manual. Continue to solicit feedback from employees and reevaluate the efficiency of the team’s work at all levels. Only through continuous improvement of your processes will the business achieve its full potential.
As you follow these steps, trust that the short-term toil of this process will far outweigh the long-term consequences of not having a written process manual intact. Businesses often realize the value of process only when there is an unanticipated change in their business trajectory, but realizing after the fact will sometimes be too late.
About the Author: Mary Feng is the head of operations for Consero Group LLC, an event-development firm based in Bethesda, MD. In this role, Ms. Feng oversees the finance, accounting, information technology, facilities, and event operations departments for the company. Prior to joining Consero, Ms. Feng has held a variety of leadership roles in event management, product and process quality analytics, and marketing. Ms. Feng graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology.