“We build our business systems the way we build our cities: over time, without a plan, on top of ruins.” Gene Brown
We all build and use systems, even though a good number of business owners don’t realize they use systems in their business.
Their systems were born by default, out of necessity, and created because someone started doing something a certain way.
Yet, considering systems are the building blocks of every business, it only makes sense to create them by design, not by accident.
Pause for a moment and think about your practice; what are your current systems? And while you may not think of the things you do as being systems, I bet you have a process, a system, for:
- Checking in/out patients
- Communicating with patients
- Communicating with providers
- Fulfilling requests for records
- Marketing your practice
- Hiring and training staff
- Running payroll
- Bookkeeping and accounting
- Ordering supplies
- Paying bills
- Billing for your services
- Collecting money from patients
- Following up with insurance companies
- Obtaining pre-authorizations
While these tasks are just a slice of what practices do every day, they form the web of systems that make up the business.
Robert Kiyosaki offers this analogy…
“An airplane is a system of systems. If an airplane takes off and the fuel system fails, there often is a crash. The same things happen in business.”
Alternatively, you may be familiar with the expression: “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” meaning that all parts work together and are important.
I encourage you to think of your practice as a system of systems. While you may not be able to systematize everything down to the last step, much of it you can.
What are Systems?
But before I continue, briefly, what is a system?
A system is a process or a step of actions designed to yield a specific result. It allows you to execute a process while consistently achieving the same results.
Some of the best-systemized businesses include companies like McDonald’s, Starbucks, Panera, etc. All of them have developed systems and processes that allow new business owners and employees to learn how to work the business successfully, quickly.
And while you may not have a franchise for sale, wouldn’t it be nice to have a manual of systems you could hand to a new hire, training them for the job?
Unfortunately, some business owners resist the idea of systems. They find it too dull, limiting, laborious, restrictive.
But as boring as it may sound, there are real benefits to thinking in terms of systems.
Operating a business can be intimidating and overwhelming.
However, when you start looking at your business as a collection of interconnected systems, it simplifies things and gets you out of overwhelm. Systems thinking allows you to zoom in on trouble spots so that you can fix or fine-tune them.
Instead of untangling the ball of yarn most businesses are, you focus on one system at a time. You now work more efficiently, more effectively, and achieve better results.
All too often, new practice owners end up doing most everything themselves.
Sometimes out of necessity, but often it’s because of a lack of systems. Without systems in place, it seems simpler and faster to do it all yourself, rather than taking the time to explain the same thing time and again.
However, when you adopt a systems approach, you can reclaim some of your time… but only if you’re willing to document your processes and systems.
Once your systems are in place, you no longer have to explain the same task or process over and over. Now you can direct people to the written document explaining what needs to get done and how to do it.
Additionally, once the manuals documenting systems and processes for your business have been written, it will be easier to delegate.
Once you feel comfortable turning over responsibilities, you thought only you could handle you’ll free up a significant portion of your time. Now you can focus on the revenue-producing activities in your business, instead of spending your time on tasks others can do.
Working with systems allows you to increase efficiency in your business. No longer will you or your employees have to reinvent the wheel. Once you’ve put systems in place, everyone knows what must get done and when.
You no longer have to waste your time explaining concepts and provide direction. You have given your employees the tools to work independently to get the job done. Now everyone knows what’s expected of them.
Suppose there is a new hire. The process to train and orient the new employee to your practice is now streamlined; now the process will take far less time than it did with previous hires.
Be sure to create your systems around business functions and not around your employees. Next, train your employees to use your systems to run your practice. Employees come and go, but your systems will stay a constant.
Increase Patient Satisfaction
An overlooked benefit of using systems in business is increased customer satisfaction.
People appreciate it when they know what to expect from you and your practice. And while they know that you treat everyone the same, they also know you’ll do so with respect and consideration.
No longer will there be ambivalence about financial policies, appointment no-shows, acceptable wait times, timeframe for medication refills, bringing in up-to-date insurance information, and the like.
When people understand what’s expected of them and have a consistent experience in your office, they are far more likely to appreciate and comply with your office policies.
If you’re not thinking of your business as a group of systems, you may want to reconsider your point of view.
When you adopt a systems approach to your practice, you gain several benefits, including more simplicity, greater efficiency, and higher patient satisfaction.
Additionally, when you look at your practice as an interconnected web of systems, you may find it easier to grow. When you can focus on monitoring individual systems, it will be easier to spot underlying problems and taking corrective action before it is too late.
What do you think of systems? Which ones have you implemented in your practice?
By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, MAc., EAMP; regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog and author of “Smart Business Planning for Clinicians.“