#29 In this episode, we're discussing the importance of workflows for small business success. We'll cover the most important attributes of good workflows, and introduce several common workflow models.
This is not a "how to" podcast for an operator. In fact, it's a "what to look for" episode for business leaders so you can quickly recognize if your team is on the right track or is in over their heads.
If you're a small business leader looking to improve your team's efficiency and collaboration, then tune in to this episode to learn how to create clear and effective workflows.
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When I'm sitting down with team members, one of my favorite questions to ask them is this. How do you know what you should be doing next? Hello and welcome to the sharp business growth podcast. The podcast for business leaders who want to create profitable, scalable growth. I'm your host deacon Bradley. And on today's show. I want to be talking about workflows. I'm an operator. I'm an integrator. I love all of that stuff, but today, if you don't love that stuff, I'm talking to you. Because. Too often people who aren't. I'm talking to visionary CEOs are here, right? They don't love workflows. They don't love all that operational stuff. It's not there. Their love language. So to speak. And as a result. It's kind of just, you know, neglected in the organization or they bring someone else in to do it. But so often I am stepping into organizations where it is obvious that this has been neglected and workflows are absent. They're in disarray, it is causing a lot of things to bounce back onto that visionary leader. And as an operator and as an integrator, I take great offense to that because my job. Is really to help the visionary actually be a visionary. That's the role of the integrator in all of this? That's the role of an operator? And so what I want to do today, It's just step through at a really high level. What are these characteristics? Like, what is this supposed to look like? What kinds of things can you, can you put in place here and should you be expecting to see. From your side of the wall as somebody who's not like the lead person creating all this stuff because you know what it's okay. It's okay to not love this stuff like that is why we all have different gifts. And we're blessed with different talents. All right. So. No big deal. But it's also important that you understand how this should look so that you don't wake up one day and think, why am I. Struggling. Why are so many things winding up on my desk? And that's really what I see happen really often. Is the person who is put in that operational chair. Whether, whatever it is that you call them, whether it's the operational manager, whether it's the COO, whether it's a project manager, This individual who's in that chair is not fully equipped to understand all of this stuff that they're setting up. And so they just kind of set up their one thing, but. The biggest problem though. Is that that individual may not understand. How. How, uh, not good. It is to have things wind up on the visionary's desk. And that's kind of, I guess the biggest problem is just them not recognizing those kinds of things. So. First things first. I want to give some examples, just really high level of like, Workflow models. Okay. Actually, you know what? Let's start with attributes here. Because if I'm going to describe models, I want you to just be able to see these attributes. In the models. And so here are a few attributes of like, alright, this workflow. Is working. Number one. Clarity. A good workflow should be clear and easy to understand. I should be able to step into this as an outsider and say, Hey, where, where are things in this process? What needs to be done next what's being worked on right now. Have there been any failures recently that need to be addressed? Things like that. I just had this conversation with, uh, one of my partners teams earlier today. It's kind of the inspiration for this workflow, which is this question that I, I, I go in and I'm like, Hey, how do you guys know what you should be working on today? How do you know what to work on next? And there was a lot of head-scratching and not people really didn't know. And what that told me was. That the way that they knew what to do was by actually going to the CEO and saying, Hey, What should I do or worse waiting around for him to tell them what to do and that's not. Okay. So you need clarity. The next thing that you need is accountability. So a good workflow should actually assign responsibility for everything that's in it. Everything that's happening, you should be able to look at a stage and know, okay. That's deacon stage here. Hey, that's, you know what, that's over there in this stage, justice, how has that stuff going? He's accountable for all of those things. So pick it on justice today. Cause, uh, cause he's not here. One. To admin stuff is, uh, is not his favorite thing, justice as a classic visionary. Right. But that doesn't mean that you can't build accountability. Into this process. So you need clarity. You need accountability. You also need. Flexibility. I was brought into an organization. Last summer. And their workflow had probably about, you know, 15 different stages that something went through. And we'll talk a little bit about the model that they used in the, in the next section here, but. That workflow was very inflexible. And so what would happen is as. As things like Ebdon flowed with demands, they would pile up in these bottlenecks and the process was unable to adapt. And one of the biggest reasons it was unable to adapt is because. It was designed in a way that created lots of silos. So people kind of imagine them. Um, imagine a really long. Factory line, like maybe this is a UN, uh, the Tesla factory, right? And there's a guy who puts the doors on the car. Probably a robot, but let's just go with it for this analogy. It was the guy who puts the doors on the car. Right. Uh, if things are backing up. Before his process. Uh, where, you know, maybe there's an, another part that's put on the car. Oh, that guy wouldn't know or really care. Cause he just kind of sat in his spot on the line and he just put doors on a car like that. That was it. And so this workflow, if it's inflexible. The car door guy could never really get outside of that and work on anything else, because that's not really how it's designed. You can't adjust how the factory flows. And so. A good workflow. When I work with small businesses, it needs to have some flexibility built in. We don't know how things are going to be going in a month or two months, like things change. Okay. And so you should build, build a workflow. That can account for that. And so if you're noticing like consistent pile ups of bottlenecks, And uh, where one department is really busy and another one has not enough to do. That's a sign that there's not enough flexibility. In your workflow of, we need to make some adjustments there. Number four, a good workflow should have great communication. It should facilitate communication amongst the people who were working on it. When there are handoffs from one thing to the next. That should be a communication step. When people are working within a step, whether it's for approval, whether it's to make an adjustment, like there needs to be really good communication involved there. And it, and no, I do not mean everybody piling in a slack channel and just having a free for all. Like throwing comments out. Right. Like that's disorganized communication because. It's involving all the different stages of the workflow. All have to look at that and see what's going on. And then decide, does this apply to me? No good communication should be built into the workflow in a way that the people who are actually involved in that step. That they get the benefit of the communication, but everyone else who is not involved in that step is not burdened by that communication. So. Sometimes we mess this up because of tools like slack. And it's easy to just be like, you know what. Put everybody in a room and just shout stuff out while you're working. And. The accountability part assumption built in there is we all read everything and so we know everything. And so we're just constantly reading and knowing and. Frankly being confused and overwhelmed. So. Uh, communication needs to be built in. But, uh, but please don't just throw everybody in a giant room. And then cause as that process grows and scales. It will, it will scale exponentially with complexity and noise rather than actually scaling up in a profitable, scalable way that we're all hoping for. And lastly your workflow should create consistency. It shouldn't have a consistent output and expected output. The quality should be there. The quantity should be there. Those are the types of things that you're looking for when you're saying, Hey, am I able to consistently create a result? So, if you want a build a profitable, scalable organization, you need to be able to predict how things are going, whether that's bringing on new team members. And creating some outputs from them. Or if that's doing some sort of big push where you need. You know, At a certain output at the other side of that, you need that consistency or you will really struggle to figure out are we on pace? Did we hire enough people? Are we going to make our numbers? Uh, those types of things. So those are the big things that I'm looking for as attributes of a good workflow. Now I want to switch gears a little bit and look at five common models for workflows. Now, this is the part where if you are a visionary, if, if workflows and operations is not your love language, like that's great. I just want you to hear these, understand that they exist. They are simple enough that you can recognize them in your organization. And this is one of the places where I see either a workflow missing that is easy to spot and just, or I see the wrong type of workflow applied. And. As a business leader. One of your key roles. Is to get the right people on the bus. Get them in the right seats on the bus. And so what I'm talking about here, what I want you to be listening for is. The operator, the project manager. The operations manager, whatever that person is on your team. But I want you to be listening for is, is this person in the right seat? Meaning, do they see these things to do they understand it? Are they capable of recognizing these scenarios and putting plans into place? No, your job is not to fix them. It's not to. To go teach them the same stuff. Uh, it's really just to recognize them. Cause we're talking to business leaders on this podcast. So I want you to be able to see this stuff. The first one. Is the base the most basic workflow. It's a linear workflow. And a linear workflow, a simple, essentially is a sequential process. Every step follows on the previous step in the process. And so you think about like the Tesla assembly line. I mentioned earlier, like that's a linear workflow for the most part, right. The cars literally go down the assembly line. I mentioned this earlier. Uh, a marketing agency that I worked with that at the end of their output was this giant amount of copy and automations and stuff, kind of all assembled. And do a package, but it was done in a very linear fashion or you're creating ideas. You're writing. Copy. Then there's graphics and there's editing and it's like, it went through this very linear. Steps of the process. The team I was talking to earlier today, it was a linear process. Uh, it was a content team also making, uh, like videos and stuff like that. It's a very linear process. You record the video, you edit the video, you publish the video. That's a linear process. The next model is a parallel workflow. And in a parallel workflow, there are things that are happening at the same time. To pull this off. You really need a project manager orchestrating all of this stuff. With a linear workflow. You can, you can get away without having one. You can set something up in a project management system, but even as simple as notion or Trello. That's going to help you get a linear workflow done. So I love linear workflows when they can be applied in a small business. Because nobody really has to manage the whole thing. And a parallel workflow. There are different people working on different things all at the same time, that's going to take a little bit more orchestration, but we're bigger things. It can help you get things done. A little bit faster. It can help you get things done. Bringing in different types of talents and teams. And so it's an important one to understand and recognize too. The third model is a circular workflow. And this is one that I would see a lot in an advertising agency because a circular workflow is where things are. Are done again and again and again. So when you launch ads, for example, The work is just beginning. You are continually going in. Looking at the performance. Making a decision. And then deciding do I create new ads? Do I adjust a budget? Something like that, but this process has to happen over and over. And if you don't have a circular workflow process that helps people remember understand this question of what should I do next? What am I doing now? Without that, what you'll get is them just kind of scurrying around from station to station, looking at stuff. And it's a little bit of chaos. It's a little bit of a hit or miss. And then kind of going back to attributes of a good workflow. The thing that I would expect to be lacking there is the consistency. So I would probably Nazi consistency. In an environment where there. Needs to be a circular workflow. But one doesn't exist. This next one is a little bit fuzzier and I don't use it quite as often, but I do deploy it sometimes. It's a hierarchical workflow. And in a hierarchal, har hierarchical workflow is difficult to say. Is essentially tasks have levels of importance. And so. Anytime you are encountering something where there is there's too much to be done. It can be helpful to add this concept of a hierarchical workflow into it. And because this can be a little bit confusing. I'm actually going to go to something really simple to explain it. One of my favorite restaurants in the entire world. Chick-fil-A. Now Chick-fil-A has a really, I mean, these, these, this is a well-run organization from top to bottom. And if we go into an actual restaurant, you will see a hierarchical workflow taking place. And what that means is essentially people understand the team members on the team understand the level of importance of different tasks. And so. There is a long line of customers. People there are making food, they're taking customer orders and they're getting that food out to customers. That is what they're doing all the time. Right. It seems pretty obvious. Like, you know, what, what else would you do at a restaurant? Right. Great Deegan cool point. But what's more interesting is when things aren't busy and this is where the hierarchical part comes in, that you can see if you go to a Chick-fil-A when it's less busy, there's not as many people in line. Those employees they're still there. But more interestingly, they still know exactly what to do to move the business forward. And so when it's less busy, you will see fewer people making food, fewer people, delivering food, fewer people, taking customer orders. Those people are now doing less. Crucial tasks. They are cleaning tables. They are taking the trash out. They were doing all these sorts of things that keep the restaurant up and running and make it clean and hospitable to the guests that are coming in. That's a good example of a hierarchical workflow. When I. Step into an organization and there are individuals. In this process, whether there's a process or not. Who are completely overwhelmed and there. You know, can't get all their stuff done. Uh, hierarchical workflow is the tool that I put in place as fast as possible. And that's really about. Understanding, what is. Critical mission, critical tasks. What are less mission-critical tasks. Okay. Let's make sure everybody understands that. So that there aren't people standing in line or getting cold food. Uh, while all the tables are clean, right. Let's just help. I understand those things. And so that can help with throughput. Help with consistency. Uh, and help. Understand everything that needs to be done. The last workflow model that I use a lot in small businesses is really agile. Now I'm going to spare you. My, my long soapbox on why I actually don't like agile. If you don't know, I actually come from a software development background. I spent the first decade of my career in. Very fast paced, very small, high accountability, software startups. It was a lot of fun, learned a lot about agile and some other methodologies they're just by experiencing them. And. Again, I think as a concept, it's great. The part I'm going to teach you here is great and important. You'll immediately get it. Uh, but yeah, I'm going to spare you my long diatribe on why I would not actually implement this. If I were running a software business. But an agile workshop, well is essentially designed to be. Flexible. It emphasizes collaboration, experimentation, continuous development. And that is why it thrives in a software environment. Think of it like this. And an agile workflow. We work in sprints. Whether that's one week or one month, whatever it is is not important. But during that sprint. We have a small set of tasks and we are focused on finishing those, getting them all over the line. And then at the end of that, we're actually going to replan the next sprint. So that's where the agile name and concept comes from. It is because as an organization, if you need to switch directions, change things up. It helps because you know that in two weeks, Or however long your sprint is. You are going to sit down again with your team and plan the next two weeks. So you can very quickly switch. Focuses of the company of the team all at once, because this is just part of your DNA. So while I wouldn't go out and learn the agile methodology or try to apply it specifically, I think it can be helpful as a leader to recognize. When you're running a project or when your team is taking on a project where there is a little bit more uncertainty, you have to create something. Maybe it's something really big and you can't totally get your arms around it right now. Uh, you don't want to try to plan out the entire thing all at once at the beginning, because of all the unknowns. Um, this is where an agile workflow can come in and just knowing like, all right. Here's what I would X here's how I'd expect us to work. We're going to take the first 10 steps. Then we're going to get back together and play in the next 10 steps. So if I'm a leader, Sitting in a chair. Looking at my organization wondering like, where's the consistency, where's the accountability, you know, what's missing here. I hope I've given you some tools to be able to recognize where some of these, these different things should be playing a role in your organization. If those things are there. Hey, fantastic. Go high five, your integrator operator, whatever it is. Do you call him? And if they're missing, Then now you have some conversation starters to start asking questions and the number one question. That I would start with. Is this. How does your team know what to do next? How do you know what to be working on? Thanks for joining me on the sharp business. Go podcast. Uh, it's been a little while since I've been recording, I've been fighting some major room echo. Hopefully you couldn't hear it in this room. Got some acoustic tiles on order. Because I want to be recording more of these. And also. Probably going to be doing more shorter episodes because that frankly takes. A lot of the planning out of it. That has been holding me back. Gordon with a lot of projects lately, a lot of partnerships. A lot of new stuff going on and that's kind of taken me away, but I miss you guys. I love being here. I love recording this show. I love the feedback I get. Do you have any questions on this episode or if there's an operations related topic? Around creating a profitable, scalable business that you want to hear. I'd love to have an email. Hit me up. Hello. Deacon Bradley. Dot com. I'll see you next time.