What would happen if you went to sleep tonight and you didn’t wake up tomorrow? Now you are asking, “What does this have to do with Marketing and Design”? Don’t worry, this isn’t an invitation to make a decision to follow a higher power. It is however, a legitimate question in regards to the role you play in your business/organization. More precisely, it is a legitimate question as it pertains to the crucial information that is stowed away safely in your mind and your mind alone. If you weren’t around, what proprietary information and knowledge would you take with you? Do you have a plan and/or workflow for you or your employees to document information and insights that are key to the operation and success of your business?
Do as I Say, Not as I’ve Done!
Have you experienced the pain of information loss due to employee turnover? In my 15 years working with non-profits I made three different transitions. Once from London to Barrie Ontario, then Barrie to Atlanta Georgia and most recently my family and I returned to Canada from the states to live just north of Toronto. Every time, once the realization that I was going to be moving on from my current role hit, it triggered a mad dash to fully document and transfer much information as possible to my successor. You would think that I would have learned my lesson the first time. Today, I spend a significant amount of my time working with businesses to create branding best practices and plan and execute marketing campaigns. One thing that sticks out to me is that regardless of the size of the business, many (not all) companies have little to no documentation to support their brand and processes. Simple questions like “who has the login for your Instagram account?” can take hours if not days to sort out.
Don’t Worry, You’re Not Alone
The intention of this post isn’t to call anyone out, I more than the average person have empathy for business owners and operators! If you have ever worked for a startup or small business you understand that the daily grind leaves little to no room for planning ahead. I think it is safe to assume that if the title of this blog or our social media posts caught your attention and you have read this far, you know the realities making business happen day to day. Statistically two thirds of startups survive two years, one half of startups survive five years and only one third of all startups will last ten years. Here is my hypothesis on the fore-mentioned statistic. Businesses that take the time to look ahead and create plans, workflows and documentation to accommodate the unforeseen and unexpected stand the test of time. Simply put when you take time to plan, create workflows and document how your business operates day to day and how you deal with situations that deviate from the expected, you are positioned to stay on top of the situation and provide a consistent customer experience and product.
Tim Bits & Chicken Sandwiches
On Monday mornings I take my two and a half year old daughter, Ellis, to swimming lessons at our local community centre. It is always a ton of fun and a great opportunity for me to have one-on-one time with my beautiful little girl in these formative years of her life. I love our Monday mornings together! My wife reminds me that if something is a daily occurrence it isn’t a “special treat”, nevertheless every Monday after swimming lessons I take Ellis to a coffee/doughnut chain named Tim Hortons. If you’re not Canadian, Tim’s is the quintessential Canadian fast-food experience. A coffee and doughnut shop named after a beloved hockey player that is quite literally everywhere. It isn’t uncommon to find a half dozen location in just a few square kilometres in more urban areas. A few weeks ago, after swimming, Ellis and I made our weekly pilgrimage for some “Tim Bits”; little chunks of doughnuts that are perfectly sized for a toddler. I pulled into the parking lot and entered the drive thru as we normally do. There was a typical lineup of cars waiting for their food and coffee. However, on this day the wait this day was abnormally long. As the minutes started to add up, I was confused by the fact that no cars were moving through the drive thru. I was trapped with an anxious toddler in the back inquiring frequently about her doughnuts. About forty minutes later I finally made it up to the drive-thru window. The young man inside apologetically informed me that “there had been a power surge and it knocked their computer systems offline”. I gave him the $1.25 for my Tim Bits and started the short trip home.
While living in Atlanta, a trip to the local Chick-fil-a was almost a daily one for me. I have the extra twenty pounds to prove it. If you have ever been to a Chick-fil-a you know there is just something magical about it. The food is simple but deeply satisfying. It is difficult to even drive past many franchise locations around noon hour due to the cars that are spilling out onto the streets. One thing Chick-fil-a is admired for is their culture of customer service. Even when there is a lineup of dozens of cars they have a way of getting the masses of hungry customers through the drive-thru and on their way. I remember one day on lunch break I stopped in at my local Chick-fil-a. I went thru like normal, nothing seemed to be different until I got up to take my order. The young women asked me if I was paying cash or with a card. I never carry cash so I said “credit”. She promptly took my order and informed me that my order was “on the house today” because their payment systems were on the fritz. I got my food and left with a smile on my face and a free spicy number one with extra pickles, Chick-fil-a sauce and a Dr. Pepper.
Does Tim Hortons not have a plan to service customers when their computer systems go down? The short answer is, “I don’t know”. I would assume they do given the size of the organization and knowing a few franchise owners personally. Nevertheless, on that ill fated Monday, the employees at that specific Tim’s location didn’t know the plan and/or workflow to deal with that situation in a timely manner. My reason for sharing these stories is NOT to disparage Tim Hortons and glorify Chick-fil-a, although it is pretty fantastic! It is to paint a picture of the contrast in the customer experience between an organization that has a plan and one that seemingly doesn’t.
Creating a Strategic Plan, Workflows and Documentation
Every business, albeit difficult to find the time, should take some much needed time to plan so that workflows can be established and then documented. We do this on a regular basis with companies usually in regards to their brand by creating style guides and marketing best practices. However, if you follow the following steps I believe they can add value to every area of your business.
1) Strategic Planning
The first step is to take a step back and find time to plan ahead. As I said earlier, I worked with non-profits for over 15 years so I completely understand tight timeline and even tighter budgets. But taking time to plan is the crucial first step to understanding how to create workflows and documentation that will help your business weather any situation. For a number of years I had been trying to offload portions of my work to volunteers at one of the organizations I worked for. Most days I felt like I was drowning in work. One day I walked into my superiors office and informed them that I needed three months to decrease my production by 50% so that I could plan things out and create the required documentation to truly activate our volunteer base.
My first step was to write out all of my daily, weekly, monthly and annual tasks. I started to sketch out the steps for each of these processes and what I felt was woking and what wasn’t. During this time I was able to actually stop and evaluate how I did things. I was able to test alternative solutions and find efficiencies.
Now that I had evaluated where we were as an organization, what we did and where I wanted to see us get to, I started the simplify things as much as possible and write workflows. This really isn’t rocket science I know, but I simply started to write out the roles required to complete tasks and the timeline required to complete each task. To create a workflow you need to establish the following.
Here is an incredibly basic scenario as an example. Our organization wanted to upload photos of our events weekly to Facebook. To accomplish this a photographer needed to be scheduled, the photographer needed to take photos then edit them and finally these photos needed to be loaded to our Facebook page. I know groundbreaking stuff! But we had a clear goal and objectives and the steps to achieve this were established. Taking into account the reality that our events took place primarily on Sundays, this is what our workflow for this objective looked like. Someone with “Administrator” level privileges needed to schedule photographers at least a month ahead and touch base with the scheduled photographer on the Wednesday before the Sunday, this allowed the administrator to make adjustments as needed. The photographer would take photos on a Sunday and had 2 days to edit the photos. They were to be uploaded to a Google Drive folder by the end of the day Tuesday. Notice they didn’t have access to post photos themselves, this is a permission level that is established by the workflow to protect the organization. On Wednesdays the administrator approves the photos in Google Drive and uploads the photos to Facebook.
This is a very basic example but the principles apply to far larger, complex and important workflows. In the example of Tim Hortons’ computer system glitch. If there was an established workflow, customer satisfaction amidst technical problems would be the goal. The steps in the workflow could be as follows. First attempt to reboot the system, if the problem persists for more than 2 minute the employee should notify a manager who has the authority to authorize giving away free coffee and pastries until the problem is resolved. The desired output, steps, privileges and timeline is established and at the end of the day, people leave with a great experience in a timely manner. It’s obviously not ideal to give things away for free, but in the big picture, what would have cost the store a hundred dollars or so would have created a much better customer experience.
Who cares if you have great workflows if nobody knows about them! When it comes to brand management, this is why we create style guides and marketing best-practice documents. Once workflows are established they need to be turned into official documents that are distributed and kept in a place where everyone working on behalf of the company can access quickly and efficiently.
If you are looking for a solution for keeping your companies documents in the cloud we highly recommend Google Cloud. Storing documents, sharing files and folders and setting permissions is very simple. Click here to learn more about Google Drive and/or Google Suite for Business. In our running example of Tim Hortons. Once the workflow is established it should be posted somewhere for employees to grab and follow.
Apply, Rinse, Repeat.
The reality is, this process of creating workflows and documentation will always be an ongoing one. But taking the time to slow down, plan/research and create workflows and documentation to support them is a critical step that can impact the success of your business. As a business owner myself, I know the struggle to really depend on my team and trust them to deliver the quality and product I expect. I have come to discover that that isn’t their fault, it is my responsibility to create systems/workflows and communicate them clearly, empowering them to deliver the quality services and products I expect from Maxxwell Creative.
If there is anything we can do to service your businesses planning, workflow and documentation needs we would love to set up a FREE ONE HOUR CONSULTATION.
Happy Workflow Building!