How implementing holistic growth hacking systems will enable you and your company to achieve long-term, sustainable business growth — in 4 steps.
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What do Navy SEALS and growth hackers have in common?
I’ll give you a minute to think...
The answer? They both make religious use of standard operating procedures (SOPs)!
I know, the word “standard” doesn’t sound very sexy... Neither does “operating” or “procedure” for that matter.
The truth is, though, SOPs are stupefyingly cool. They are one of the main reasons that SEALS (and growth hackers) are so effective in what they do.
This post is going to discuss what makes systems like SOPs so powerful for business growth—and for life in general.
You’re about to learn what systems thinking is all about. And you’re going to learn the secret word that is missing in the term “Growth Hacking.”
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Systems Rule The Entire World
You’ve probably heard of the butterfly effect.
Somewhere in Vermont, a butterfly is flapping its wings, and this sets a string of events into motion eventually resulting in a hurricane over Southeast Asia.
Yes, this is an exaggerated (okay, a ridiculous) example, but it does illustrate an important reality.
Nothing in life happens in isolation.
Everything is part of a chain of cause and effect; part of a sequence of events.
When you look around you it may seem otherwise. Sometimes it appears as if the world is chaotic and full of random occurrences and accidents.
But in reality, every event has a cause—or a series of causes—which gave rise to it. These cause and effect systems run the world.
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We all know this instinctively.
It’s raining right now because a cold front moved in and caused the warm, moisture-laden air to condense (or something like that).
The guy stuck on the side of the road with a smoking engine probably consistently neglected to do proper, necessary vehicle maintenance.
Your big event was a flop because you didn’t plan properly or follow the proper procedural checklist to ensure you covered every salient issue beforehand.
Things aren’t random. We know this.
And yet, many of us have trouble connecting the dots of cause and effect in our lives. We fail to see that the results we are experiencing are the direct outcomes of our life’s systems.
Our grades. Our relationships. Our health. Our everything. All are outcomes of life systems that are either well-managed, or not so well-managed.
Understanding this—like, deeply understanding it—is vital for any successful person because it allows us to assert greater control over our lives.
It frees us from being victims of our circumstances and allows us to begin tailoring circumstances in our favor.
When we know and understand the factors that go into determining certain outcomes, we can start to tweak those factors to get the outcomes we want.
We become the master engineers of our lives.
Let Systems Do The Work For You
One of my biggest annoyances while working online has always been the necessary evil of typing in usernames and passwords.
Hundreds. Of usernames. And passwords.
And of course, they should all be unique, and strong.
Oh, the time I used to spend looking up passwords, keeping track of them, resetting them, and just plain typing them in. For me, it was too much.
Of course, that was before I adopted a system.
I began using a password manager (LastPass). Not only did it become a secure place to store my credentials, but it fills the flipping fields in for me and logs me in automatically without me having to do anything!
I think back to the days before LastPass and I can’t believe I used to live that way.
This is a great example of a simple but powerful system that works for me. It saves me time, energy, headspace, increases my security, decreases my stress and saves me hundreds of keystrokes per day.
It gives me more time to focus on the things that really matter, like growing my business.
There is a lesson here.
Setting up a good system takes some time. But over the long term, the saved time and the efficiency gains make it worthwhile.
It’s a simple principle. You invest some effort in the beginning, and then the system works for you, saving you effort in the long run.
I recently created a system (see the chart below) for managing all the backup and file synchronizations I use at home. As you can imagine it took a bit of effort.
The result? Peace of mind, hours saved, multiple levels of file security, universal file availability, and best of all, it just works. I never have to worry about it.
(Also, I now struggle to feel sympathy for people who lose files due to crashes. It’s 2017 people! Totally unnecessary!)
It’s not magic. It’s simple logic.
Great outcomes are the natural results of strong systems. Disasters are the natural results of poor systems (or no systems).
Fact: By managing or neglecting the systems that govern our lives and businesses, we set ourselves up for failure or success. [Tweet that!]
Growth [secret word] Hacking
A phone starts ringing at full volume during a keynote presentation, probably playing a cheesy Justin Bieber tune.
A frantic woman burrows through her purse. Random objects fly in all directions.
Heads turn. People mutter.
Woman slumps in her chair, embarrassed, thinking, “Why do these things happen to me?”
I’ve seen it a million times... (Yeah, okay, I’ve been the guilty one more than once.)
Why do these things happen? Simple. System failure.
Want to know the simplest “hack” in the world? Always keep your phone in the same pocket so you know where it is.
Systems hacking is nothing more than uncovering the root causes of important outcomes, and optimizing them.
Here it is, pay attention:
Instead of constantly wrestling with the consequences of less-than-optimal results, you should focus most of your energy on optimizing the systems that give rise to those results.
Can you hear the heavenly choir singing?
This simple but powerful idea can spell the difference between effective people and businesses, and not-so-effective ones.
So, what is the hacking part?
Hacks are basically just little tricks. Shortcuts. Clever little adjustments you can make to a system to increase a desired result. They can take many forms, depending on your objective.
Are you having trouble keeping a consistent exercise schedule?
Most people become frustrated and get stuck in a cycle of trying, failing and eventually giving up. They fail to realize the answer does not lie in trying harder, but in tweaking their system.
System thinkers try to figure out what the underlying causes of the poor results are, and how they can adjust these mechanisms to help them get what they want.
Some classic hacks include rewarding yourself somehow. Treat yourself to a nice protein shake after a workout. Your brain will start to associate the activity with the reward.
Yes, just like Pavlov’s dog.
Or, buy a new pair of running shoes to boost your motivation. Set out your gear the night before to save you effort. Do whatever you need to make it easy for yourself.
The idea is, rather than just pushing harder for the results you want, start looking at the underlying systems and how you can optimize them.
Are you struggling to find time to write?
Stop trying to force it! Take a step back and adjust your schedule according to priorities. Schedule your writing time during the period of the day when you are most creative.
It’s not complicated, but it does require a paradigm shift.
Fact: Stellar results are simply the natural outworkings of well-managed systems. [Tweet that!]
System Hacking Your Business
You undoubtedly have numerous life systems already set up to ensure you get things done. Systems for organizing your to-do lists, systems for filtering and labeling your emails, reminders on your phone, etc.
Some of your best systems probably run without you even realizing it—things like always starting with your left hand when you tie your shoe.
Yep, thats a system too!
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But when you learn to think in terms of systems, you will notice that there is so much more you can do.
Once you internalize systems thinking, you will start creating system hacks for your personal relationships, for your studies, for work, for raising your kids—for just about every aspect of your life.
And here comes the powerful part.
Take this idea over to the business world. It’s where your system optimization efforts will really thrive. After all, a business is nothing more than a collection of many systems.
A system-optimized business is like a well-oiled machine that runs largely on its own. Put some effort into winding it up, and it runs like clockwork (remember my file backup example).
As a manager, you’ll no longer be fighting to squeeze out better results—you’ll simply be ensuring the machine runs well, receives the necessary maintenance and gets the occasional upgrade.
When the right systems are set up and in place, your job becomes easy.
Your involvement in day-to-day business activities lessens as the systems you have established pump out the results you want.
You’ll be able to take a step back from the details and give more focus to developing your growth strategy. You’ll have time to be creative.
This is like the opposite of micromanagement… Macromanagement? Is that a word?
Your employees will no longer need to rely on your input for each small step because they’ll have solid systems in place to guide them.
Here is a thought for you:
Fact: If your continual presence and intervention is necessary for business operations to run smoothly, it means that you are the bottleneck. [Tweet that!]
So How Do You Actually Do It?
When it comes to the complexities of running a business, how can you create systems that are scalable and sharable? And how can you ensure all your team members are using them correctly?
This is where standard operating procedures (SOPs) are useful.
To optimize your business for growth, you must begin by dissecting it into its many component systems. You then have to assess the effectiveness of each underlying process and tweak it.
Step 1: Identify Systems And Processes
Simply identifying all your systems is the first step.
Often these are not even immediately clear. Systems can overlap. Boundary lines are fuzzy. There are interdependencies. Perhaps you’ve even never looked at your business this way.
Often you have systems you don’t even realize exist (think of the habit of tying your shoes).
Start with identifying higher level systems (e.g. marketing or HR) and move down to more narrow subsystems (e.g. your blog, email campaigns, social media).
You end up with hierarchy of systems and subsystems. These are all the components that make up your business.
You’re going to tackle them one at a time, optimizing them, streamlining them and automating them as much as possible so they function in a way that produces the results you want.
Step 2: Process Analysis
Once you’ve identified all your systems, start asking questions.
Is there a clear process for each task in each individual subsystem? Is the process working? Is it resulting in the outcomes you want? Can it be improved?
I find it usually helps to think in terms of job functions—what actually needs to get done in each role, and is it being done effectively, efficiently and consistently?
How can you improve, streamline and “hack” your processes to make them perform better? Sometimes small changes can have a big impact!
Are there things falling through the cracks?
In this stage, it is important that you talk to the people actually doing the work. They are the ones who will be familiar with the hiccups and bottlenecks, and may give you the best insights.
Step 3: Documentation
This is where you actually create all of your SOPs by writing down every single process that needs to happen for your business to run.
It is the most important part of system optimization. It’s where the “standard” in standard operating procedure comes from.
Fact: Processes need to be well documented if they are going to be followed.
Everyone in the organization needs to know what to do, but also where to find processes and when a process is applicable to a particular task.
The general idea is that if any task needs to be done more than twice, you should write out a standard process for it. That way, nobody is ever reinventing the wheel, and common tasks are done with consistency and reliability.
When your whole team is on the same page, with a well documented system in place, there is never any doubt about how to proceed because there is always a process to follow.
Standardizing your processes also helps to take away cognitive strain. You remove the thought process behind common activities, thereby freeing up your team’s time and mental energy for more important things.
Creating a library of well-organized processes to guide all your business decisions and activities is the most time consuming part of the process, but there is no getting around it.
And the results will be well worth it. I promise.
Step 4: Optimization
If you skipped ahead to this step, it won't be very useful to you. You can’t optimize processes you haven’t documented.
If you haven’t kept track, you won’t know what worked or what didn’t work. It’s another reason why documenting all your processes—and all changes to your processes—is so important.
You need to be able to measure what correlates with success.
Once your systems and processes are in place and people are following them, you should start making small improvements to individual processes and subsystems.
Just like in a controlled experiment, it’s important to change only one thing at a time so you can isolate effects. Small steps are the way to go.
Track your system’s performance with each small process change until you figure out what works best.
And remember that optimization is never “done.” It’s a process that will (and should) continue as long as your business does. But once your systems and processes are in place and well-documented, making small changes becomes as simple as rewriting a few lines.
By now you have probably guessed the secret word missing in the term “growth hacking.”
It really should be “growth system hacking” because this is mostly what growth hackers do all day: break apart systems, improve them, and put them back together.
Growth hackers are on a constant quest to understand and optimize the systems that produce the results a company is looking for.
They understand that better results don’t just come from trying harder; they come from making systematic adjustments to all the processes that give rise to results.
They understand that every event is part of a sequence; that every effect has a cause (or series of causes). And they know that the best way to obtain a desired outcome is to (re)engineer the underlying system.
Growth hackers are effective because they have internalized this reality, and they live by it. They let processes guide everything they do.
And when a process is ineffective, they rewrite it.
Their standard operating procedures ensure they are never in doubt about what to do next. This allows them to focus their cognitive efforts on creativity and ideation.
Growth systems hacking is simply about investing effort in the right places. It’s about working smarter, not harder.
So, if you want to become as effective and efficient as a growth hacker (or a Navy SEAL), you now know where to start.
Learn to see and think in systems.
Once you do, you will begin to notice systems everywhere you go.
You’ll stop seeing problems around you (e.g. in the supermarket or at the restaurant) as random occurrences, and you’ll begin to notice the underlying system deficiencies instead.
It’s a powerful new perspective. One you can put to use.
If you take away one idea from this post, let it be this: The quality of your systems will determine the degree of your success.
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