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Catch-22 and Compounding Effectiveness

“I don’t have time to show them how to do that.”

“There aren’t enough hours in the day.”

“It’s quicker to do it myself.”

“I need another one of me.”

These phrases resonate with everyone at some point in their life. Not just business owners. Everyone.

I spent a decade and change working as a chef and I’d always find myself saying the same things. Even now as an accountant I have to fight the urge to vomit these words out when there are loads of things to do.

Accountancy isn’t as far removed from hospitality as you might think; you have to juggle, there are always impending deadlines, you have to deal with the public on a daily basis, everything needs a plan, you’re always putting out fires, and the work doesn’t stop just because it’s clocking off time. People perceive hospitality and accountancy to be completely different that they actually are. I’ll give you an example; have you ever been speaking to one of your friends outside of the industry (on a rare day off), you’re absolutely shattered after a 15-hour shift and the conversation goes something like this;

Them; “What’s up?”

You; “Nothing, I’m just shattered after yesterday’s shift”.

Them; “Me too, I got out late today because I had to deal with a customer on the phone. It was a full-on day, finished about 20 minutes late, missed the bus and had to wait another 20 minutes for the next one.”

You; “The bar was packed last night, and we were short staffed. We shut at 11 and it was another 20–30 minutes of kicking people out, one person threw up on the way out and another accidentally smashed a glass. By the time we’d cleaned it up, closed the bar down, placed the booze order, filled out the end of day, closed off the tills, fiddled with the alarm in the dark and locked up it was after 1. There were no buses, so I had to wait 40 minutes for a taxi. I was only meant to be working until 11.30 but I couldn’t leave my team on their own to deal with it, it wouldn’t have been fair on them.”

Them; “Ouch. I thought you’d have cleaners or something to deal with it in the morning.”

You; “We do, but it wouldn’t have been right to leave the place the way it was.”

It’s fairly standard for people who’ve never worked in hospitality to think this way- I had the same conversations with my friends when I was still a chef. They’d say things like “why didn’t you just leave when you were meant to finish?” and my response was always along the lines of “that’s just the way it is”, when really what I meant to say was “you don’t leave your team in the lurch, because the next time you need them, they won’t give the time of day.”

And that’s exactly it. Time.

When we start viewing time as the solution to our problems, rather than a symptom of our problems, it doesn’t matter how many hours you work, you’ll never solve the problem. The excuse of time and working more hours to solve a problem is lazy (and when I say lazy, I’m not denying that you’re busy, but busy and effective aren’t the same thing). It’s lazy because you’re working on the symptoms of an underlying problems rather than finding an effective solution to the problem.

Up until recently I’ve worked similar hours to when I was a chef; 15 and 16-hour days with no days off for long periods of time and I bragged about it. After 2 and a half years of running an accountancy business I got knocked out by shingles and I’ve been forced to slow down- it’s affect my concentration and my energy levels, and despite having a great team to support me, I noticed that my work was piling up- it wasn’t that my team couldn’t complete the work, it was because I am the bottleneck to getting shit done in my business.

The thing with running your own business is that even when you’re off, you’re not actually off. Your mind still goes round at a 1000 miles per hour thinking about all the things that won’t be getting done because you’re not there to do them. Then it hit me that the only reason that certain things weren’t getting done wasn’t because I wasn’t there, it was because I hadn’t empowered my team to get those things done in my absence.

There’s a really good book called “Selling to Serve” that I’ve listened to quite a number of times now by a bloke named James Ashford and even though I’d listened to it a dozen times or so before, some of the things that he talked about didn’t actually resonate with me until now. Two of my big takeaways from the book were (and I’m paraphrasing here);

1. No one acts until the pain of inaction outweighs the pain of action, and

2. Everything compounds if you keep working on it

With point number one, your brain is constantly finding ways to keep you safe and out of harm’s way. The way you’re running your business now might be causing you pain (anxiety, stress, depression, sleepless nights, exhaustion and so on), but that pain is far more manageable than the perceived pain of changing something within your business and failing.

Point number two works both ways. If you’re already struggling and don’t do anything about it, then that struggle intensifies and your circumstances become worse. It compounds. If you’re doing something right and take small “directionally correct” steps, then that compounds too.

For me, I’d hit the point where the pain of not changing anything in my business far outweighed the pain of changing a lot of what we’re doing and pointing my team in a different direction. Combine that with the fact that I couldn’t do some of the jobs that I thought I needed to do meant that I only really had one choice; to put systems in place for my team to run. Systems run your business, and your team runs the systems.

There was one perceived problem though- I needed to put those systems into place quickly and to do it quickly would mean that they wouldn’t be perfect. I gulped at the thought of it and decided to do it anyway. I started to work through 1–2–1s with my team to ask them a few simple questions; what is going right, what gets you frustrated, and what can we, as a team do better. I won’t go into huge amounts of detail, but safe to say that all of their answers, under one guise or another, were about putting systems in place. Rather than deciding what systems I thought that they needed, I let them tell me what systems they needed. They worked it all out, I refined it slightly, and then I set them up in our task management system.

I knew that the processes and systems wouldn’t be perfect, and within a day or so a couple of our clients had emailed us or called us to ask why they’d received x, y, and z emails and notifications. I explained what we’d done and promised that it wouldn’t happen again. I immediately changed the part of the system that wasn’t working and carried on. The system might have been 50% of the way there when we implemented it, but the following week it was 52% of the way there, and then 56% of the way there. It’s still gradually improving, but along with those small improvements in the system, there have also been improvements in the output quality of some of the things that my team are working on. Again, not everything is perfect, but it’s on the way to being perfect.

Accountants and hospitality business owners have something else in common; they have a deep desire to do things perfectly, and whilst this is absolutely something to aim for, it’s their worst enemy when it comes to start as neither one wants to start a task unless they know in advance that it’s going to be perfect. We often say to ourselves (in one way or another), “if you’re not going to do it right, there’s no point in doing it”, when what we mean is “if it’s not going to turn out perfectly the first time around I don’t want to do it”- this is because we confuse “right” with “perfect”. What you’re doing doesn’t have to be perfect to start, but if you don’t start then it’ll never be perfect.

This is the same reason that we don’t like to delegate to our team.

“I don’t have time to show them how to do that perfectly.”

“There aren’t enough hours in the day to do it perfectly, so I won’t try.”

“It’s quicker to do it myself perfectly.”

“I need another one of me so that it’s done perfectly.”

The phrase I most often hear is based on a Catch-22 scenario; You don’t have time to start to put processes and procedures in place, but without putting processes and procedures in place, you’ll never get time back. Think about it a different way; “If I start to put processes and procedures in place, I’ll get my time back”.

You might be reading this and thinking that you don’t have time for creating, implementing, and monitoring procedures, but I’m here to tell you that you do. Like I mentioned earlier on, I didn’t design all of the processes, procedures and systems that my business has in place, and I certainly didn’t come up with them after the business started growing and I had a team in place. I sat down with me team, did their 1–2–1s, listened to them and found out that some of them had ideas to put in place and others had already mapped out what they were doing. I then implemented it and made them accountable for their own ideas.

For the processes and systems that I’ve designed myself and implemented- and those that I’ve implemented on behalf of my team- I started with a single process, made a rough draft of it, walked it through with one of the senior team and then “switched it on” and let the senior team talk it through with the rest of their team. Implementing this first process gave structure to the work of the main team which saved them time, and time back to the senior team, which in turn gave time back to me to implement the next process and the cycle continues from there. Making lots of small changes has a compounding effect, and as those changes and procedures improve, the compounding effect only increases until a trickle becomes a flood.

Start with one, simple process. Pick one. Anything. It doesn’t even have to be yours. If you have a management or leadership team, sit down with them one by one, over the course of a couple of weeks if you have to. Get their ideas from them and listen to them. Some of them might need a little bit of a prompt, just make sure that you don’t turn it into a performance review, and don’t use it as a reason to talk at them. When you’re talking, you can only talk about something you already know, so you’re not learning anything.

I asked each member of my team (there are 9 of us) the same 6 questions in the order below. I’ve added a few simple prompts. They don’t need to be complex in any way, and the simpler the better- don’t use them if you don’t need to. Often when you asked someone a question in a way that they’re not used to it being asked there can be a bit of a silence. Fight against every fibre of your being and stay silent, they’re just trying to formulate what they’re feeling into words and then trying to articulate it in a way that doesn’t seem like a kick off.

1. What’s going right?

a. The team work well together.

b. The hours are flexible.

c. The furniture is nice, and the place is clean.

d. There are no cliques.

2. What are your frustrations? (Don’t ask them what’s going wrong because it might not actually be wrong, it might just be that they don’t understand why things are done a certain way)

a. It’s hard to check on the booking system if a customer has paid a deposit.

b. I haven’t had any training in x, y, or z.

3. What can we do better? (This isn’t a “royal” we. This means everyone in the business- the person you’re talking to, you, the management team, everyone and anyone connected to the business).

a. Better training for new team members.

b. More people with the ability to buy low-cost items (like bleach etc if you’re always running out) without it needing to be authorised by the owner.

c. Better signage outside.

4. Do you want to progress? What are your personal goals? (Note: note everyone wants to progress through the business, and that’s ok).

a. Management/ Supervisor.

b. I want to learn how to cash up.

c. I want to look after the social media posts.

5. What training do you think you’ll need to get there?

a. Apprenticeship/ management course.

b. Staff training booklet.

c. Social media crash course.

d. To sit with their line manager for an hour per week.

6. Have we missed anything?

a. No prompts here. They might have more to add to the first couple of questions, and they might not.

I’ve set these questions out in a specific way for a reason; the first question affirms that there are some things that are being done right and you may not need to change. The second question helps you to find out what’s getting on their nerves and the rest of the questions reassure them that you’re actively changing the things that aren’t going quite right.

Once you’ve gotten through all your 1–2–1s, look through them for common themes. You’ll find that absolutely everything you’ve listened to all boils down to implementing processes, systems, and procedures. For any of your team that come up with a process during their 1–2–1, ask them how it’d work (and don’t shoot them down), get them to draw up the process, bring in your management team and give them a short deadline to start implementing this. Make them accountable for it going right as well as for it going wrong. Let your management team manage the process and teach the rest of the team and you can turn it into a document, a flow chart, or a video (I’m a big fan of videos as much as I dislike doing them). If you’ve got a larger team, then have your managers go through it in stages, sections, or phases. Remember, this won’t be perfect right away and it doesn’t have to be.

Prolific beats perfect.


You’ve probably spent a lot of time saying that you don’t have time to start to put processes and procedures in place, and without putting processes and procedures in place, you’ll never get your time back.

Think about it a different way; “If I start to put processes and procedures in place, I’ll get my time back”.

The more you focus on getting your initial procedures out there, the more confident and competent your team will become. The more confident and competent they are, the better they’ll be at their job. They better they are at their job, the easier it gets, and the happier they’ll be. The happier they are, the happier your customers will be. The happier your customers are, the more they’ll spend.

Everything compounds.



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