When something goes wrong in a business (as it is likely to in any business) a smart leader will always do a post-mortem. They’ll go through their business one section at a time until they’ve found the root (or roots!) of the problem, then they’ll figure out what they can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Smarter leaders, however, don’t wait for a disaster to tell them what’s not working in their business. They seek out faulty mechanisms and fix them before they cause a breakdown.
To do this, they’ll often carry out a “pre-mortem” – an exercise where they imagine what could go wrong with their business in future, highlighting flaws that can then be addressed ahead of time.
One of the biggest benefits of running a pre-mortem is that it helps you identify your points of failure. Think back to the discussion we recently had about how growing a business is like building a LEGO® castle. Your points of failure are like load-bearing structures – the columns or walls which, if they were removed, would bring the whole castle tumbling down!
Perhaps you have a single member of staff who covers three or four key roles in your team. What happens if they fall ill, or leave? Or maybe you have one computer where all your important records are stored. What if it crashes? Perhaps the business is completely dependent on your leadership. What if you want to take a holiday, or step back from the day-to-day?
If you want your business to be robust, you need to prepare for contingencies like these. Let’s talk about how you do that.
How to identify your points of failure
Points of failure differ from business to business. They also evolve as businesses change and grow. As a leader, if you want to keep track of them you’ll want to review these on a regular basis, perhaps quarterly or bi-annually.
The best way to do this is to have a complete overview of your customer journey from end to end. I’m not just talking about your sales and marketing operation here – I mean the whole story: from the first time a prospect hears about your business to the moment when they decide to become a repeat customer.
You then need to walk through the whole process from the perspective of a client, looking for bottlenecks. These are the parts of the pipeline and your business processes where, if things go wrong, people get stuck and can’t move on to the next stage. Are you depending on the skills of a single person to convert leads into paying customers? That, right there, is a potential point of failure.
As business owners, we’re all natural optimists, but this is one situation where a bit of pessimism will pay dividends. You need to be able to imagine everything that could possibly go wrong with your business. Remember the butterfly effect – the smallest error in one part of your business can ultimately derail the entire process.
How to address your points of failure
Once you’ve spotted the points of failure in your business, the next step is fixing them. To show you how, I’m going to share an example from my own experience.
A couple of years ago, I decided to do a pre-mortem for The Business Catalyst. After running the rule over every aspect of my operations, the main point of failure became glaringly obvious. It was me!
Like most founders who have built their company from the ground up, I’ve had to wear many different hats and perform many different roles in my time at The Business Catalyst. As well as doing what I do best – helping clients design their ideal customer journeys – I’ve also been my own marketer, admin, tech support and more!
As my business has grown, I’ve brought in colleagues to cover these roles. However, when you’re so used to taking responsibility on your own shoulders, it can be hard to kick that “do-it-yourself” habit.
My instinct was to be hands-on with every aspect of the business – but what would happen if I was too busy to fulfil all my roles at once? What if I wanted to focus more on strategic leadership, or if I decided to give myself a well-earned break?
You need to distribute some of the responsibility
The answer, of course, was that everything would fall to pieces. To address this situation, I needed to find a way to distribute some of the responsibility I was taking on myself, either by sharing it with other people, or by turning it into a repeatable process that could go on working without my direct input.
For example, one of my skills has always been designing automations for my clients. I enjoy this work, and I know I’m bloody good at it. However, I also realised that if I kept doing it all myself it would ultimately be a barrier to scaling the business. After all, there are only so many hours in a day for me to spend working on reporting systems and marketing automations.
The answer was to productise! I took my automation skills and translated them into the Ideal Patient Journey – a package of tools, automations and configurations designed to allow appointment-based brick and mortar businesses like orthodontists, dentists or vets to manage and optimise their customer journeys. The Ideal Patient Journey is robust, systematised, fully tested and, best of all, it keeps on working without my day-to-day input.
With the Ideal Patient Journey in place, I know that one of the core functions of my business will keep running without my direct oversight. This gives me more room to focus on strategy and leadership, whilst also knowing that if I should have to step away from the business at any point, things won’t immediately start falling apart without me.
Most points of failure are really people problems
Nine times out of ten, a business’ points of failure are rooted in personnel issues. It might be that a dynamic leader is hogging too much responsibility for themselves, or that their staff are not equipped with the right skills or processes to deliver in their roles.
Whilst technology can always help us create more streamlined systems for our businesses, these kinds of problems can’t be automated away. Instead, you need to find ways to share responsibility and accountability throughout the team, so that everyone feels invested in delivering the best possible customer experience.
The best way to achieve this is through shared problem-solving exercises, in which staff are encouraged to give feedback on the processes they are being asked to carry out in their day-to-day roles. By giving staff input into the design of the systems they work with, you allow them to feel like they’ve had a hand in shaping them, rather than just receiving their orders from on high. Done right, this means that they will value your processes and your results as much as you do, creating a culture where responsibility for success is shared throughout the team, rather than concentrated in one or two key members.
Are you struggling to spot the points of failure in your business, or are you unsure of how to tackle them? Reach out to me today through The Business Catalyst website, and we can get to work building robust, repeatable processes that will help you create a culture of shared responsibility for your company today.