In my high school AP English class, I was introduced to The New Yorker magazine. While some of the short stories were required reading, unsurprisingly it was something else in the magazine I looked forward to – the well captioned single frame comic (thank you CartoonBank for giving me a place to reminisce). On one of my favorites was a couple seated at a restaurant table with the caption, “It’s not you. It’s me. I just don’t like you.”
I was listening to a podcast recently in which habits were being discussed and the guest discussed habits as being “systems.” Systems are a set of principles and procedures according to which something is done that work together as parts to complete the whole. When something goes wrong it is not you that is the problem. The problem is your system – including habits and processes.
This past month I have been working on year-end accountings and helping clients prepare their year reporting and payroll returns. Part of that is preparing 1099s and W-2s for a few clients who run manual payrolls. This month has been a rough month. I could blame it on the clients. I could blame it on myself. In both cases I would be wrong. The real source of the lack of smooth operations comes down to systems – client systems and my own. Now that things are finished and out the door, I get to look back, evaluate and then improve. I get to tweak my process (part of the system) and invite a few clients to improve their systems as well.
Most of the trouble came from missing data. The data was missing when vendors and employees were setup and stayed missing until I needed it to do my piece of the process. Having to stop and track down stuff took a long time and put pressure on the time table to meet the impending deadlines. What can be done to fix the system? In this case, for the client’s system, establish a process of not issuing a check to a vendor without having a W-9 on file and input in the system. Make it a habit. Practice that and the problem is fixed. On my side, I can add an extra step in my quarterly process and alert the clients that there is data missing when I look at their books at quarter ends. Finding an issue sooner gets it fixed sooner and perhaps avoids having to spend time searching when the clock is ticking for the deadline.
We can examine our processes and systems every time the result generated is not what was expected. We can make changes and improve, making our systems better in the process. During some Lean/Six Sigma training I did a while ago, we were to create an assembly line and build Lego cars. We would run the line, stop and huddle together to discuss where our process wasn’t working well. We would make changes and then run our line again. Each time we did this, we improved our systems and improved our outcomes. We can do this on the shop floor, in the office and in our personal lives. Despite it seeming like something might be wrong with the bathroom scale, it is probably something wrong with our systems (Darn gelato). Change is hard but a lot of small changes over time is easier. Involve your teams and your families. They can be the source of great ideas and solutions. Hire a professional if needed.
You may even need to put other things like growth on hold so you can fix the systems first.
As I tell my kids, “Remember you rock.” If something isn’t going right, it isn’t you – it is your systems.
This blog allows you to experience the raw, gut wrenching drama of human conflict through accounting in each of its three stages: preparing to do battle, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.