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How You’re Organized Determines What Work Gets Done.

Organizational Strategy for Knowledge Work

A business is a system that produces excess money. A system is a set of processes that work together. A process is a series of tasks. In other words, a business is just a complex combination of tasks put together.

Odds are, if you are a one-person entrepreneur or a small team, you never defined it that way. If you can’t define what your business is… Well, what is it then? A random recurring event? That doesn’t provide much comfort.

This edition of Indie Strategy will dive into why your organizational strategy matters - how you organize yourself will determine how work gets done. That might be obvious for big companies with large head counts, but it’s important for small teams and solopreneurs too.

It starts with getting organized. That’s why businesses are often referred to as organizations after all. Each day we deal with what’s in front of us, what seems important at the time that we are looking for something to do. An email comes in, so we deal with that. We notice an error on our website so we deal with that. We’re not sure how much money is in the bank account so we pivot to that. At the end of the day we’ve worked on a lot of random things that hardly produced any real results.

It’s up to us to organize our business environment so that we, or whoever is inside of that environment, is called to do work that creates the desired result. And that starts with figuring out what that desired result is, and what work will get us there.

Paying Attention

Once you’ve decided to pay attention to your goals, you’ve entered into the realm of strategic thinking. It’s a long and winding road, but it’s the only one that will help you hit the target you’re pointing to.

The “non-strategic” approach, where you haven’t decided what your goal is, is perfectly portrayed by this conversation between Alice and the creepy disappearing cat in Alice in Wonderland:

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

Alice: I don't much care where.

The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.

Alice: ...So long as I get somewhere.

The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you're sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

Alice in Wonderland

You have big goals like, “Build a business that makes me enough money to live comfortably, and only requires me to work 5 hours a day.” But nested inside that goal are tens if not hundreds of sub-goals. The more detailed those sub-goals are the better. Some legitament sub-goals might be:

  • Reduce churn by 25% by the end of the quarter.

  • Create enough additional value in our product to raise prices by 15%.

  • Increase company profits by reducing our cost structure by x%.

  • Get my first 100 customers by the end of this month.

The more specific and relevant the goals the better. The next step is to put together a plan (made up of tasks) for what tasks need to be done to reach that goal, and if you can’t put together the tasks, that’s a good indication that your goals are not specific or relevant enough.

The key to creating a plan to achieve your goal is working backward from the goal itself. It’s important to note that some goals will create plans that do not have an end date (ex: be known for great customer service, or publish a newsletter every week) in which case you’ll be designing a recurring workflow to make sure that is always being accomplished.

The process of creating a plan for a project and for a workflow is more or less the same.

Project Plan Example - Reduce Churn by 25%

  1. Interview 10 customers that canceled our service and ask them why.

  2. Categorize the different reasons expressed by each person.

  3. Rank them by cost to fix and potential impact on churn rate.

  4. Create a project plan to fix each issue in rank order.

Workflow Example - Publish a newsletter every week

  1. Set aside time to come up with content ideas

  2. Pick a topic and organize your research and thoughts.

  3. Draft and Revise content.

  4. Schedule content in newsletter software.

Building a company of any size will have projects and workflows. That, of course, is what makes it a system.

Get The Details Right

Have you ever tried to delegate something to a freelancer, intern, or employee and it turns out utterly disappointing? Generally speaking, if the person you gave it to wants to do a good job, it’s probably not their fault. Most work is easy. Or at least you wouldn’t delegate something to someone you didn’t think had the necessary skills to get the job done. The problem is with the assignment, not the person.

You can’t organize yourself if you don’t know where things go. For example, if you wanted to organize your closet, pretty soon you would have some shirt or hat in your hand and have to ask yourself, “where should I put this?” Obviously, the floor is not an ideal place. That’s why you are making changes in the first place.

McDonald changed the game when in their Standard Operating Procedure they had each employee taking orders ask, “Would you like fries with that?” That single line in their operating procedure accounted for billions in revenue.

They have a script. They have a script because they want the same outcome every time. And you need to have the same outcome every time, especially with workflows that happen over and over again.

How exactly do you handle certain customer support requests?

Where do you mark that a customer complaint has been resolved?

Where do you put the information around what problem that customer was facing?

Does that place keep all that information together so it can be analyzed to determine what improvements to make on the business to reduce the customer support request?

If you want to get the same result from a process every time, you can’t leave the details to the person taking part in the process, including you. Because each person will do them differently. You will do them differently depending on what mood you are in at the time. And if everything is done differently every time - in other words, it’s not organized - then you have no way to know what’s going on or what’s important to work on.

Google Calendar Take The Wheel

Your calendar is like a bank account. Except, it doesn’t tell you how much money you have, it tells you how much time and effort you have. The trick is, you don’t decide how much of it is spent and when - a second is always spent every second. But you do get to decide what to spend it on.

After finishing the last two steps, you should know what work to do and how to do it. This is about figuring out the when. It means actually opening up a calendar and picking times to get all the work done.

Actually putting stuff in your calendar puts everything into perspective. You’ll realize really quickly that you have to make hard decisions about what is a priority.

Where before you could blindly see something on the top of your to-do list and get that thing done. Putting things in a calendar forces you to look at all the work to do and put important things closer to today and unimportant things further out. You’ll confront how much time you actually have.

For your workflows, you’ll decide how often each of these pieces has to recur. Do you need to check how much you spent each week? or each month? Do you need to check your email every hour? or twice a day? Then you actually make that recurring event in your calendar and stick to it.

With the space left after necessary workflows are put in place, you can begin placing chunks of project-related tasks. If you are doing it right, you’ll find that you can actually only afford 2-3 tasks a day in most cases. Depending on the difficulty and time consumption of each one.

Putting everything on the calendar becomes a puzzle. It’s a puzzle you’ve always been playing, but may not have been paying attention to in the past. The key to doing this right is to make sure the stuff that actually moves the needle and gets you closer to your goal is getting priority over everything else.

Conclusion

Getting organized to this degree can feel like extra work that takes away from getting actual tasks done, and it is. But the long-term benefits are just too worthwhile to pass up. Once you have this level of organization you’ll:

  • Know exactly what work is creating what result and how much it “costs” to do that work.

  • Be able to adjust and optimize workflows to maximize the results of each process.

  • Dramatically reduce the cost and headache of delegating projects and workflows to other people when necessary.

  • More accurately predict the trajectory of your business because you know what steps will be taken and when

  • Eliminate unnecessary workflows.

  • Automate workflows with precision.

All in all, this is an investment in future savings. And as a general rule, investments in future savings are some of the safest ones to make.

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