Systems are a must; but common sense should override them

Systems are a must; but common sense should override them


Before discussing how and when systems should be overridden, let’s revisit the need for systems in the first place.

As I wrote in my book, “The 10 Seeds You Must Plant to Grow Your Business”, “……… Small business owners often ask why the documentation of policies and procedures is relevant to them.

The answer lies in what they want for their business. If they want to create an enterprise that can grow, is efficient during its growth phases and is a saleable asset when the owner has finished with it, this documentation is essential. Furthermore, I would contend that it will not attain that status without documented systems, policies and procedures.

Without written systems, there is greater potential for chaos, as the people who are engaged to carry out certain tasks often clash (or tasks remain incomplete) because there is no certainty as to who should be doing what, when.

Furthermore, all of the processes that do exist within the business lie between the ears of the people responsible for those processes. When they leave for whatever reason, the process goes with them, leaving the business vulnerable. On the other hand, if everything is documented a new employee has complete details of their job and the tasks required for successful completion of the job and how individual tasks should be carried out.

At this point, the business is reliant on its systems and processes and not on individuals who come and go. Michael Gerber in The E-Myth Revisited contends that we should aim for a business that is systems-dependent, not people-dependent. “The systems run the business, the people run the systems,” he says.

This is not to say that individuals are not important – far from it. After all, we need the right people who are prepared to be accountable for performing the tasks that make up the systems and processes. Furthermore, as we discussed previously, it is the people who will be relied upon for innovation, for contributing to the business growth and for its improved efficiency.

It does mean, however, that the business has a solid foundation for growth through its systems. Individual Position Agreements should refer to the company policies and procedures and there should be an understanding from day one that the various tasks should be completed according to those processes.

What you will get from documented systems include, but is not necessarily limited to:

·         a business where people are clear about what needs to be done – and they do it

·         a business where your customers expect – and get – a consistently high level of product and/or service

·         a process for resolving problems

·         set methods of doing all of the major tasks required in the business’s operation that can be followed by almost anyone, without relying on individuals

·         a solid basis for growth

·         a business that will be attractive to a buyer or investors when the time is right for exit or a new structure.”


Assuming now, that the principle of a systems-based business is agreed – and systems have been implemented into the business – we need to look at exceptions to those systems or policies. Because there will be times when unforeseen circumstances arise that conflict with our policies or procedures.

Very recently, I had to collect a parcel from the local Australia Post office. When I got there, I was asked for ID, which I had not brought with me, having left home in a hurry. When I could not produce ID, I was told I could not collect the item. Since I am in there on at least a weekly basis, common sense should have prevailed over the procedure requiring ID. (Thankfully, finally it did – but not before I had to, unnecessarily, strongly state the obvious.)

Unfortunately, instances such as this are commonplace. Sure, there must be a procedure; but common sense should prevail.

The frontline people who are most likely to be confronted with these situations need to be trained and trusted in decision-making. How often do we complain about bureaucratic procedures that stand in the way of common sense? The last thing we need in our business is to be tarred with the same brush.

So how do we find the balance between the necessity for systems, policies and procedures on the one hand, and the need for common sense when those processes need to be overridden?

Our core values, at some point, are bound to refer to the need to provide outstanding customer service.
The recruitment policy that has been have introduced should ensure that the people who are employed align with those core values.
Furthermore, if you have faith in your recruitment processes, you will have employed people who have your complete trust; as such, they can be trusted to make the right decisions.
Engagement with our people will provide a forum for discussions where the need to override systems will be discussed.
Ongoing staff training will ensure that people know the circumstances where they have the authority to make a common sense decision that might, at first appear to conflict with procedures.
If all of the above elements are present in the workplace, people will be entrusted to make decisions based on common sense, even when those decisions conflict with existing policies or procedures. And that very exemption may lead to the adjustment of that policy or procedure – and employees, customers and the business itself, all gain as a result.