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Business operating systems to drive value and meet objectives

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Having a structured plan that outlines how you operate your business is crucial and can be the difference between success and failure. There are numerous different operating methods out there, including the Entrepreneurial Operating System and OKRs, but ultimately it is important to choose one or you’ll need to create one – which can be a lot of work. I like the fact that with the ‘off the shelf’ version everyone can read the same books and use the same language. Being structured and purposeful (i.e. thinking carefully about the outcomes you want to achieve) in setting objectives and thinking about how you operate your business is really valuable. 

Clarity and vision  

A successful company is one that has a real focus and clarity on what is trying to be achieved - lacking this is not acceptable. Even if you have a clear purpose, if people aren’t aware of it, it isn’t going to be of much value - so ensure you have an efficient system in place for how you communicate that throughout the organization.

There are various aspects that go into clarity, including vision - identifying what you are trying to solve. The majority are very familiar with the popular vision and mission concepts of a company. Defining these are intended to represent your company's ethos and inspire you and your colleagues to align with them and provide a sense of purpose. The mission looks at the scale of the ambition you are trying to reach. Highlighting objectives that relate to these will put you on the right track to meet your goals. When it comes to your strategy, you need to be thinking about what differentiates your company from others who are in a similar position to you. 

Processes can be a really challenging aspect of operating a business, you will need them as you scale, but too many and too rigid processes risk ossifying your company and losing flexibility and innovation. They are a great way of acknowledging what works and avoiding what doesn’t work, however, you need to be careful about how you set and change processes. If something isn’t working for you at the moment, it doesn't mean it won’t work for you in the future. There should be a constant procedure of checking and evaluating processes to avoid getting set in the ways of how you do things. They are not about setting things in stone but maintaining flexibility and nimbleness. Processes are only your current best guess of the optimal way of doing things and are always up for question. Making it clear that anyone can question a process and making those questions well-received is key.

Transparency and communication 

Ensuring there is a focus on transparency and communication is also important - making sure there is a formal procedure to guarantee maximum efficiency. It is important to provide your team with the right information and data so they can make the right decisions and meet the business goals. There are a huge amount of companies out there that keep a lot of data close to their chest and do not share it around. This is something that should be considered and asked - how do you expect colleagues to make the right decisions if you are not providing them with the tools? It is important to think about what information you use to make decisions and make sure that the same information is available to all.

In terms of communication, again there should be a formal policy in place for this. This should be applied to everything, even how you onboard people and the set of information you give them. There are other structures in a company that can be used for communication, from all-hands or townhalls to newsletters and weekly written updates. One might also include manager meetings. Every one-to-one meeting could start with a current explanation of the vision and objectives and how what you are doing is helping you to achieve those objectives. By doing this, it is almost forcing yourself to be reminded of the end goal and the mission. 

There are also bigger meetings with more than one individual. Again, each of these meetings should start with an explanation of why the meeting is important for achieving the objectives. Meetings should be taking place because you are needing to make a decision about something, if it is for anything else perhaps a written form of communication is more efficient. Research has highlighted that 67 percent of employees feel that they spend too much time in meetings, hindering them from being productive at work. Simply cut out wasteful meetings. 

Responsibility and accountability  

Finally, you need to be looking at responsibility and accountability. Responsibility looks at who is responsible for doing a certain task and reaching the objective - this can include a group of people so it can be shared. Compared to accountability which is the ownership of the outcome and is generally one person. Having clarity on both of these is really important. If there is an objective and you do not know who is accountable for it, then how are you sure it is going to be hit? 

Responsibility and accountability are quite fragile – if you don’t allow people the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them, eventually they will just start second-guessing what they think you would like them to do, not what they think is best for the company. True accountability is also scary. Employees think they want more responsibility, but when it’s clear that success and failure are down to them, it’s quite daunting. Give them lots of support, but don’t make the decision for them.

Ultimately, ensuring you have clear processes in place and defining your business's vision and mission is vital for maximum efficiency. Clarity, transparency, communication, responsibility and accountability are critical in a successful operating system and not acknowledging them is simply not an option. Think about what you want your colleagues to achieve and provide them with access to information that enables them to make better-informed decisions.

Ben Fletcher, CEO and Founder, Velocity (opens in new tab)

Ben is an entrepreneur with over 20 years experience of being a business owner and manager. In the last 10 years, he has been an investor in, and mentor and adviser to, a wide range of businesses.