Some aspects of business defy — or inspire — the rule-book, and I don’t know of many situations where the conflict between systematization and freedom can be resolved without at least some contradictions.
One thing is certain: Without some rules and processes you’ll waste a pile of money on your marketing, and you’ll see dismal results, if you can measure any at all. The biggest danger: You’ll try this, then that, never quite getting it right, as you follow the latest fad or whim, or the stories of your competitors or marketing sales representatives.
Yet there is another side to the story: You have processes, systems, and budgets in place, and if you do anything, you make only incremental changes — without, in some cases, throwing the entire process overboard and starting afresh.
Eventually, you may “get it” but only after wasting a pile of money.
(I’m thinking of those old Yellow Pages advertising contracts. By now, you’ve probably ditched the old paper phone book, but could you have changed the story many years before — and caught up with the then-latest web-based marketing techniques. Or if you did that, have you built-in processes to systematically update and maintain your online presence? Probably not.)
There’s an answer to this challenge, and it requires some systems, but not an overwhelming bureaucracy.
First, have an annual meeting/business review process for your company. This is a one or two-day event and if you are a smaller organization (say five to 15 people) you can bring everyone into the room for the program. (If you are larger, you may need to define departmental reviews and then have a selected representative join the main meeting.)
Second, have regular but brief staff and group meetings. No more than an hour at a time, and possibly much shorter (daily five or 10 minute huddles are often effective.) Goal here is to have a quick communications system in place.
Third, create a budget with opportunities for review and flexibility. If something comes up off budget, it can be discussed and assessed in the meeting system described above. You may be able to do a quick reallocation to capture an unexpected opportunity.
Fourth, set up measuring systems that are easy to follow, consistent and capture what really matters. The ideal measurements will be Key Performance Indicators or KPIs, and if you are fortunate, you’ll devise some that are proprietary to your own business. Ideally these should be leading indicators so you can adapt to changes. Note for the AEC industry, with high volume and long-lasting project cycles, KPIs may take years to be useful, so there are limitations in this concept.
Finally, verify, check and periodically review your processes. You want to avoid doing what you are doing because it is always the way you have done things. Build in systems to embrace change, not bureaucracy.