When I start working with a business regaining control is often their real objective. The senior managers, or owner, might talk about delivery performance initially but eventually it comes back to control. Having control over our businesses allows for a whole raft of benefits. Improved communication, simpler operations management, higher profit, living your mission and definitely high levels of on time delivery performance.

This article shares with you the five straightforward and simple actions you can take to improve control. These aren’t the only items, but these particular items come from a conversation I had with a client the other week that I thought was worth repeating here.

Document your knowledge

The knowledge that each business holds is often unique to that business. The way that it holds that information, however, can be pretty standard. The decision to capture that information is the challenge that I see all the time.

Most common methods to capture knowledge include Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), quality manuals and procedures, flowcharts, rotas and departmental handbooks. Whatever method is used the point is that a decision has been made to move from tacit (in your heads) to explicit (written down).

Whenever there is a feeling that there is too much in people’s heads, write it down! Sharing the information can be a challenge too, but agreeing how you do this in advance can make this straightforward and effective. Memos, newsletters, toolbox talks etc… they all work.

Link the information together

Once you have your information shared and understood by your business it is key that everything links together. People will not remember everything that you have written down and communicated. Helping people to find the information in an efficient manner will help with this issue.

I have clients that have large flowcharts on their office walls that refer to the key documents they use in their business. Others have Internet home pages that link straight to their documentation. Checklists work great too when they link to the vital documentation. I’ll touch on skills matrices (another great tool to do this) in a moment, but everything should link back to everything else.

At each point in the business the knowledge that is required should be captured, referred to and linked. It should always be possible to find what you need quickly because of everything being linked together.

The opposite of this is what I often see. Comments, instructions and commands being made and then lost. If they don’t link to something else then it becomes a case of having to ‘remember to remember’. Avoid this and intertwine your business instructions with your day to day behaviour.

Create routines for control

To help trigger your activities, which link to your key business rules and information, you need a business routine. Some triggers are event based, such as a new project starting. Some triggers are time based, which is where routines come into play.

Knowing what needs to happen when is another way to capture knowledge from your business too. This specific piece of information helps to coordinate and drive activity. When the routine is clear to everyone in the business and you have linked the routine with your day to day conversations you can really see results.

You don’t need to create a rigid timetable for this to work. Identify the key activities, who needs to carry them out and when they need to be carried out. Publish the routine and keep talking about it until the right habits form. There is a lot of talk about habits being hard to form. If you use enough reminders and self-discipline the habits will form. It really isn’t rocket science!

Your routine will mature and evolve over time. Keep it documented and keep it visible to add value to your business as you keep control of day to day operations.

Using skills matrices properly

This is a woefully underused tool for many businesses. A good skills matrix ensures that you know that your team know what they’re doing. Many businesses are ‘kinda’ sure they know what is going on with their staff. A skills matrix can help eliminate the ‘kinda’ element.

Linking your skills matrix to your existing knowledge (especially Standard Operating Procedure references) makes what is meant to be known clearer. Getting training signed off by the participants to ensure that they understand the instructions and agree to follow them helps again. Having absolute clarity around this issue prevents future arguments.

Using the skills matrix as part of your routine is a good management practice:

  • Do you have any gaps?
  • Do you need more people to be trained?
  • Who is under performing based on their skill level?
  • Who needs support?

These are all good questions that should be asked on a regular basis. If you have your information documented and a good routine in place this should not be difficult to organise.

Centralise your improvement actions

Every business generates actions that need to be resolved. Whether this is from an improvement project or from day to day activity, actions need to be captured and managed.

After a while there can be so many action plans and discussions that a business can get lost. When people get lost with their actions they tend to:

  • Stop writing things down and forget the actions.
  • Procrastinate due to the volume of the actions and stop working on them.
  • Lose valuable opportunities for improvement in business black holes.

If you want to avoid this in your own business then agree on how actions are stored and managed for the business. Routinely reviewing the actions and making progress will bring a degree of control back to the business. You won’t feel like everything is being stored in your heads and combined with the above points control will start to restore.

Documented information that is linked to the rest of the business’ operations that supports an effective business routine, run by appropriately skilled people, delivering progress via actions is a good recipe. Control is a wide subject but these five points will help most businesses to make a significant step forward.


Giles Johnston

Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who consults with businesses to improve their on time delivery performance, ERP system performance and deploy Kaizen / Lean production methods. Giles is also the author of 'What Does Good Look Like?'.