Any business needs systems to grow. To ensure the efficiency, consistency, and quality of your operations documented systems and processes are essential. I’d like to speak to any child care business owner that is are:
- a. working on opening their first center
- b. wanting to gain back some of their time by being able to delegate more to their team
- c. hoping to expand from just one (or two) locations to multiple locations
- d. looking for ways to continue to improve their workplace culture
The KEY to all of this is the ability to CREATE SYSTEMS that your team can follow. If you’ve just been winging it or have been “wishy-washy” with your policies and/or operating procedures it can feel overwhelming to “need to create systems.” This is especially true if you’ve never done it before, but I am here to assure you that it is really quite simple to do.
Creating systems is really just documenting the policies and processes for the way your company does business, and then making sure your team is trained and held accountable to follow them. You can create a system for any repeatable processes in your business, such as how to run an invoice, create a lunch menu, request a day off, sanitize the diapering station, shutdown a classroom, or organize an event. A system is a method of doing something that can be done the same way, over and over, as efficiently as possible. Creating and following systems has many benefits:
- Saves Time – Allows you to delegate more tasks to your employees. You are no longer needed for every little task or decision.
- Training Tool – You, or anyone on your team, can easily train new employees – you have a roadmap to follow. Employees know right from the start exactly what is expected of them.
- Consistency – You can expect consistency in the work that your staff do and in the level of service they provide to your clients. Employees make sure processes and procedures are completed the same way every time.
- Quality Control – You have a standard by which all business activity is measured.
- Accountability – You can hold your team accountable when systems aren’t followed. You have a measure to be used for evaluating performance.
- Efficiency – When things are done the same way every time, efficiency increases. There is less waste of time and materials.
- Cost Control – After testing several options when creating your systems, you can choose the fastest, most cost effective way of completing the task at your desired level of quality.
- Duplicatable – Allows for business growth and scaling, since any person could duplicate your system if given the instructions.
Document Your Systems by Creating an Operations Manual
When creating systems, you need a way to document and store them, so you can communicate them to the team. An operations manual is an organized collection of all of your written processes, policies, forms, marketing materials, etc. It is a LIVING BOOK, meaning it will never be completed. Your operations manual serves as the framework that supports all of your other business systems. It brings order and structure, but still allows for some flexibility.
Since it is a living book, it will need to be regularly updated and maintained. As you update a process or a form you will need to update your operations manual with the latest information. As you begin to document more processes and procedures, you will add this new information to your operations manual as well.
Traditionally, operations manuals have been put together in huge binders, with tab dividers separating each section. However, many businesses have switched to storing their operations manuals electronically. There are software programs that can help you with this. You could use a paid service, or a program like Microsoft OneNote. You could also organize your documents in Dropbox or Google Drive. It doesn’t matter which system you choose, it’s just important that you have a system and that it is purposeful, organized, and that your employees have access to reference it. An added benefit to using an online system to store your operations manual is that you can include links to forms, videos, screenshots, etc.
It is a HUGE task to put together an operations manual for your business, but it is essential. You cannot expect to complete your first draft quickly, it is a project that will take some time. To get started, brainstorm to come up with every topic that you could possibly think of to include in your operations manual. Write down everything you can think of. If it helps, visualize each room of your school, or each staff member. Think about what happens in that room, or what duties that staff member completes. Just keep adding topics to your list until you can’t think of anything more.
Next, try organizing those topics into logical sections or groupings. You may want to try organizing those sublists further, such as alphabetically, or by classroom or department, or in order of use or importance. As you are organizing your thoughts, more ideas might come to you. That’s great, add them to the list.
To give you a head start, I’ve included an PDF file in this blog that you can download that contains a list of 151 topics you may want to consider including in your operations manual. You likely will not need all of them, OR you may have a program or procedure that is not included on the list, but there should be enough topics listed to get your brainstorming started.
Document Your Systems by Creating an Operations Manual
After you have created your operations manual outline, get started populating it with the information and policies that you have already established and created. You will probably find that you don’t have written policies or procedures for many of the items on your outline. That’s ok! Now you know what you need to work on. Pick the most important, or most commonly needed things to start with and keep adding more topics as you go.
Try not to feel overwhelmed by the amount of topics that still need to be created. Set a goal to write 5 new topics per week (as an example), and with consistency you’ll soon have a completed first draft of your operations manual.
Get members of your team involved to help you with this. In my center, I had my teachers help write out all of the classroom procedures. They knew what they did, how they did it, and where everything was kept far better than I did. After they documented everything they could think of, we all went over it together. Through collaboration we were able to find a few things we needed to tweak or correct for consistency between the rooms. Having the team work on this together also allowed us to point out items that were missing or that could be improved. The best part of the process is the way the team felt like they were a part of making policy and developing the systems for our center.
Establishing Systems Will Also Help Cultivate a Positive Company Culture
Creating systems in your business will also help you to cultivate a positive, collaborative workplace culture. First, it allows you, as the leader, to step back and work ON your business, rather than IN your business. You’ve outlined exactly how you want things done and given your team a roadmap for success. With systems in place, you can focus on bigger picture things rather than being bogged down in day to day operations. When you are able to be the true visionary of your company, you can lead your team forward to places of growth and excellence that would otherwise not be possible.
More importantly, consistently following your systems creates a sense of security and stability in your workplace culture. When your working conditions are chaotic and unpredictable, your staff will tend to become reactionary, suspicious, and cautious.
When you create systems in your business, and are consistent in holding your team accountable to follow them, your business will run more smoothly. This stable environment will allow other leaders to emerge on your team. They will be able to shine and stand out because they will move from a place of just surviving the work day, to thriving in their environment.
When these natural leaders in your team are revealed, you can begin encouraging them and developing them to move up in your company. These people will become your support system, your leadership team – whether officially or unofficially. You will lean on each other, bounce new ideas off of each other, consult each other on decisions, work together to make changes, and lift each other up when one of you is down. You need a team like this around you – a team that shares in the responsibility of moving your company forward.
I hope this article has sparked a few ideas for you and will help you in either improving or getting started with creating your operations manual! It is a big task that will take some time, but it’s not scary if you just think about documenting what you already do on a daily basis. The process is often eye opening and will show you areas that can be improved in the (near) future. And don’t forget to scroll back up to download the list of 151 topics you may want to consider including in your operations manual that I have provided for you!