An operational ceiling is the mountain of systems, procedures, habits and rituals that are cutting your efficiency and preventing your business from reaching new heights. It’s all the stuff that happens in business that’s not fully dedicated to creating, selling or marketing, i.e. the things causing sales and revenue. When you first started your business, you might not have felt it too much, but it’s amazing how fast these things pile up.
Like a lot of businesses, at Saasu we’re constantly dealing with our own operational clutter. That being said, we decided to share the stuff that we’ve been learning along the way and a useful process to break down the friction hindering your business.
Everything starts with your mindset, so always look to improve and reengineer how you think. A great mindset will usually outperform a brute force approach to work because it allows you to allocate resources more effectively and increases your rate of correct decisions.
We believe the three mental pillars to breaking through any operational ceiling are clarity, focus and procedures.
Clarity is knowing what you want to achieve.
Focus is knowing which actions to take to get there.
Procedures is about outlining the ritualised tasks.
Humans don’t like change, often subscribing to the philosophy that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. This sort of mindset is counterproductive by nature and can even be fatal in business. The first step in strategic preparation is to admit that things aren’t perfect. Things can almost always be improved, so we should regularly review the systems and procedures we have in place to remove anything problematic.
It’s easy to be too ambitious when formulating a strategy, writing up big documents with huge lists of things to do. It’s much more effective to distil things down to the essential and pick the appropriate amount for your business size. Keep it simple, focused and achievable.
The second step is to establish processes that act as rituals. Often times, 95% of the work we do is ritualised. We’re not exploring or pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, so it’s essential that the ritualised tasks we do day in, day out are constructive and not a product of comfort, apathy or bad habits.
A key thing to remember is that you don’t always have to do everything yourself. It could be much more effective to hire artisans/craftsmen and outsource the tasks that require a specialised approach. Perhaps a few of your current processes could even be automated somehow. Take the time to weigh up your options, it could free up a lot of your time for more important tasks.
If processes are the day-to-day rituals, then actions are the maintenance of these rituals. Get into a mode of constantly adjusting your ritualised processes to clean and improve them. Take actions by adding, removing, streamlining, automating and outsourcing. The key is to be selective and prioritise your time and focus on the tasks with the biggest return.
Actions also encompass the more reactionary aspects of work, dealing with the spontaneous tasks that pop up and fitting them into your daily schedule.
You will need to track your results. Gamify the results to help motivate you intrinsically.
When everyone knows what the game is, treating results as a scoreboard can be a great motivating tool and make work much more fun. At Saasu, we currently use a simple spreadsheet with measurable metrics beside each task (traffic value, etc). From this spreadsheet, we can evaluate the task’s value to the time investment and cost, remove the least effective tasks, and shift our focus to the tasks that offer the most benefit.
Don’t forget to keep results and gratification frequent. As we discussed in our post on Goal Setting, humans aren’t built for long-term gratification. While focussing on your major KPIs, take the time to feel good about your progress and celebrate the small wins.
Businesses are as diverse as the people who work in them, so we definitely encourage you to do things your way. We hope you found a few of these tips helpful and encouraged you to think more about the ways you can clean the operational clutter weighing down your business.
Photo by Nik Shuliahin