Operational Norms for Small Business

16 Operational Norms for Service-Based Small Business

Operational Norms for Small Business

“Business as usual.”

What does even mean, right?

As a small business owner you know full-well that “usual” means “normal.” Yet “normal” hardly ever happens on a day-to-day basis in the service industry! So much so that not-normal is actually normal!

To some degree that is very normal. However, we believe that standardizing as much as possible is the single greatest factor to creating stability in a line of business that is determined by ever-changing customer demands.

At Aculign we struggle just like you.

As a service-based consulting firm for service-based businesses we face two challenges daily:

  • The tyranny of the urgent
  • The devil of distraction

They’re both crouching at the door of our offices. Each and every day. All day long. Tackling these challenges starts with thoughtfulness and commitment.

Thinking carefully about the ideal state is important to us. It allows the higher functioning part of our brain to function as our wise advocate and tell us what’s really important to us.

Then, we attempt to put energy behind staying committed to those important things.

Those important things function very much like fences or guard rails. As we envision where we want to go, we also think through the distractions that pose a risk to us not getting there.

To help us get there, we created what we call our Operational Norms. These are the guard rails that protect us throughout the day to help us get where we want to go. We recommend using them as a guide to creating your own, in order to protect your time and get your projects, tasks, and goals accomplished.

  1. Only check and respond to email a max of twice daily.
  2. Arrive at the office with a clear list of priorities. Otherwise, how the heck do you get anything done?
  3. Don’t get in front of the computer without a clear list of priorities.  You’ll get distracted.
  4. Compile a task list for tomorrow no later than the evening before.  This helps you get ahead on #2 above.
  5. Don’t permit yourself to tackle any more than two mission-critical items per day.  If everything is important, then nothing is actually important.
  6. Do NOT multitask. It is one of the deadliest lies out there.
  7. Shorten your schedule and deadlines to force focused action and prevent procrastination.  Tasks with deadlines too far in the future almost always get delayed even more.
  8. All meetings should require an agenda and produce decisions and delegated action plans with deadlines.  Too much time is wasted in meetings without a  purpose and focus.
  9. Meetings should default to a maximum of 30 minutes.  We offer a 4 hour workshop on meetings for you and your team. You will walk away with prepped agendas for your most important meetings.  Contact us to learn more.
  10. Do not allow interruptions unless it is extremely urgent. Otherwise, send an email or chat message.
  11. Batch activities to limit setup costs. Group the same type of stuff together so you can keep your mind in that zone and do more quality work.
  12. If it’s not well-defined and important, don’t do it.  Otherwise, table it and schedule a block of time later to define and plan it.
  13. Analyze tasks to discover what to eliminate.  More than likely, some tasks evolved over time to become bigger than they really need to be.
  14. Delegate.  Give work away that someone cheaper than yourself can and should be doing.
  15. Never automate something that can be eliminated from the workflow.  If there’s not really a need for it, don’t try to make your software do it for you anyway.
  16. Outsource whenever and as often as possible. If you can’t or shouldn’t do #14, that is.
  17. Establish verbal flags that team members can use in discussions and meetings to call attention back to the agenda or matter at hand.  Give your team freedom to keep each other focused.

Like us, you will more than likely experience crashing through one or more guardrails. Probably on a daily basis, at first. But if everyone on your team agrees that operational norms are necessary, and if everyone agrees on what they should be, then shared agreement means that you’ve created a context where you can help each other. It’s not uncommon for one of us to say to another team member,


as a way of reminding that team member that a distraction or “rabbit trail” has just been introduced. And it’s common in meetings for one of us to say,

“Let’s anchor,”

as a means of re-anchoring the discussion to the agenda at hand.

Regardless of how you choose to do it, an environment of humility is important, as everyone is willing to admit their weakness and let their team member help them stay focused.

What are some of the operational norms that you feel are crucial for your business?  Share them in the comment field and help generate “aha!” moments for others who read.

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