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Three operational changes leaders must make to propel their business

I believe the best way to propel your nonprofit or small business is to look for methods to improve your operations. When your systems and day-to-day items are working well, you can better deal with the curveballs that come your way.

As a leader, I am always trying to learn how to do things better, not only for Dot Org, but for my family and for the clients we serve. For Dot Org, I have spent a significant part of the last two years learning more about process improvement because I knew better internal operations and systems would help us grow efficiently and effectively.

I discovered we had a ton of work to do. So, I committed a substantial amount of my time to improving and documenting our systems. It was important that our team also participated, so we included operations as a standing goal in our annual planning. We are now all involved in making things better.

This work has made me a huge advocate of process improvement. From purchasing software that tracks and automates our processes to taking things out of my head and documenting them for others to follow, we have become a better company overall.

I happily share my newfound knowledge with anyone who will listen. The topic comes up often since I regularly talk with many nonprofit leaders and small business owners who are struggling with the day-to-day grind.

Specifically, there are three things we have changed that have made the biggest differences for us – and they can help you and your organization, too.

1. Run better staff/team meetings.

Raise your hand if you have been in a bad staff or team meeting! You know, the one where you go around the table and everyone regurgitates what they are working on and nothing ever gets accomplished. (Who hasn’t, right?) Or, how about the hijacked meeting? That’s the meeting where you have an agenda to talk about high-level items and end up having a tangential conversation about something totally irrelevant.

The problem with meetings is that people don’t have them or attend them because they are viewed as wastes of time. But meetings don’t have to be that way. In fact, staff and team meetings are necessary to get things done and keep issues from festering.

To run a better staff or team meeting:

⋅ Have a regularly scheduled day and time.
⋅ Hold to a start and stop time.
⋅ Have an agenda and stick to it.
⋅ Make it mandatory.
⋅ Only include the people who need to be there.
⋅ Make it agile. If you have a section where you report on items, consider using the red, yellow or green strategy. If they are green, there is no discussion. If they are yellow, discuss immediately and clear up any confusion. If they are red, table them until the end of the meeting or set up time later that day to discuss.
⋅ Only include people who are relevant to the discussion.

2. Make professional development a priority

It’s a job seeker’s market, which makes it hard for organizations to fill important roles in their organization. Having a structured professional development program helps you retain talent and reward those who can grow within your organization. It also allows you to take risks on hiring someone who may not be 100% qualified for a job opening, but is also smart, ambitious and could grow into the role quickly.

This may seem like more of an HR function than an operations function. But investing in your people is an ongoing process that requires careful planning. You always need to be thinking about where every team member is in their professional journey and seek opportunities to support them.

⋅ Create a dedicated budget for professional development.
⋅ Have professional development plans or goals for every team member.
⋅ Invest in certifications for team members that will give your organization additional credibility.
⋅ Look beyond educational opportunities for staff outside of their current role.
⋅ Seek mentors (or serve as a mentor) for younger team members who are early in their career and have leadership potential.

3. Develop solid systems and plans – and review them.

Solid systems and plans are the foundation for a successful organization. When you have these in place, you will save time AND money. Plus, you will open your brain space to more creative thinking because you won’t be using that space to remember all the tasks, which is important as you add and replace team members.

What is a system?

Systems include everything you do on a day-to-day or regular basis that need to be handled in a very structured way. Things like banking, payroll, hiring, billing, accounts payable/receivable, client onboarding, answering the phones, use of software, employee handbooks, client projects, etc. fall into this category. These systems tend to be static, meaning they don’t change very often.

Things your systems should contain:

⋅ The actual process or workflow for doing the task – what is done when and in what order.
⋅ Any pertinent contact information for vendors that may be involved.
⋅ The types of software used.
⋅ Account information and passwords.
⋅ Anything that someone would need if the person doing the task currently is no longer there.


What is a plan?

Your plans are more dynamic, meaning they have structure, but change on a regular basis. Things like marketing, sales, social media, fundraising, goals and objectives, emergencies and long-range plans fall into this category.

Things your plans should contain.

⋅ Goals that align with your company or organization strategic goals.
⋅ Objectives that are created to help you achieve those goals.
⋅ Specific tasks that are assigned to specific people with specific due dates.

Keep in mind, developing these systems and plans will take a while and you will constantly work on them (we are). Pick a plan or a series of plans for the team to work on every quarter. You are more likely to accomplish them in this shorter time frame. By the time a year is up, you will be surprised at the progress you have made toward systematizing your organization.  And review your plans regularly so they are always top of mind with your team.

It is hard as a leader to stay out of the weeds, especially if you work for a small business or nonprofit. It is just part of the territory. But, by adding structure within your organization and supporting those who work for you, you will become more efficient and have more time to lead.

Focus on implementing these three operational changes and include your team in the process. You will see your organization work better – and get more freedom to focus on growth.


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