Recently, I had a conversation with a Managed Service Provider about getting employees to execute policies and procedures once they're established. They asked, “How do you get employees to enter their time, create service tickets, and only work from service tickets? We’ve never had formal processes and it feels stifling.”
I half-joked that I’d find new employees who will follow the processes and policies of the company. But, really, implementing policies is just a matter of willpower and habit. There are four stages in the transition from “no processes” to automated processes:
Habit and willpower are inversely related to one another. When something is a habit, you will simply do it. When you have no habits, then it takes a great deal of willpower to do what you know you need to do. Let’s look at the stages in order.
Sometimes people say they have no processes in place. That’s never true. You might have poor processes. You certainly might have undocumented processes. But you do have processes! After all, when a client wants a new desktop computer installed, it gets done. You might do the setup differently every time, but it gets done.
And the truth is, you don’t do it differently every time. You have some kind of process. You have rules and guidelines – even if they’re just in your head or passed along by spoken word. So you’ve got some kinds of processes, they’re just disorganized. You have lots of processes, once you think about it.
Next, you need to begin the work of organizing and formalizing your processes.
Beginning the work of formalizing your processes takes the most willpower. You haven’t done it before. You have so much to do that you feel overwhelmed. By definition, everything’s disorganized and you are choosing to take on the battle of organizing it.
All of that takes willpower. That’s why people feel overwhelmed. Every action at this stage requires you to choose to slow down, take a minute, and document the process. Then you have to slow down and choose to follow the process. They you have to slow down and teach your staff to follow the process.
It feels like a lot of slowing down rather than speeding up. You know (intellectually) that good processes and procedures will make everything faster and more efficient in the future. But today, at this moment, it sure seems faster to do it the old way.
Willpower reflects your commitment to organized process you desire. If you cannot muster the willpower to get started, you will never get past Stage One.
As you begin to work on your processes and procedures, you gradually see the benefits. You also gradually begin to form habits. Habits are simply automated processes and take place without engaging willpower.
Early on, you use a lot of willpower and have no habits. But over time, “good habits” replace willpower. Most things will still take a little bit of willpower, but over time you will simply do things the new way. Working the plan means choosing to execute.
All of this is much easier when your team works together. That means everyone asks each other, “Did you document that?” or “Did you log your notes in the ticket?” When everyone asks each other these questions all day long, it becomes much easier to form good habits.
New employees will be trained on the (new) procedures and never know another way of doing things. They will form habits much more easily than old-timers who need to un-learn the old ways.
Some day you will realize that you’re not choosing – you’re simply executing. That’s habit.
I love the example of a morning routine. Some people go for a walk. Some meditate. Some swim. But even if the only thing you do automatically is to brush your teeth, you’ve got a morning routine that is habit. You don’t debate whether to brush your teeth or take a shower. You just do it.
It takes no willpower to brush your teeth. And for those who go for a run every morning, it takes little or no willpower to go running. These are pure habits.
Eventually, you will build excellent habits within your company. You will invoice on time, you will charge the rates you’ve said you’ll charge, you’ll document your work, etc. It might seem overwhelming when you start out, but you can completely re-configure your business in just a few months.
I recommend a formal program of one new habit per week. You can’t do it all at once. So pick one thing. For example, start tracking all time in your service board. Work on that for the next week. Support each other, remind each other, and bug each other. Just do it. Make it happen.
Then, next week, start a habit of reviewing every new service ticket for status, work type, contract, billability, etc. Make a list and execute it every time a new ticket is created. With luck, you’ll have a busy week and you’ll develop that new habit in short order.
The week after that, pick something else. In a year you’ll have about 50 new habits that dramatically improve your business – and create repeatable success within your company.
Exercise your willpower now. I promise it gets easier over time.