Growing Your Tutoring Company with Systems Thinking

What I’m about to introduce to you in this entry has the potential to absolutely transform the way you run your business. It will unlock the growth potential within your business, allow you to work less and help you deliver more consistent results to your students. The concepts I’m about to introduce will not only affect the way you look at your business, they also have the potential to drastically change the way you look at other areas of your life – that’s how powerful they are. This concept can be found in almost all successful organizations and has been responsible for transforming small, struggling businesses into industry leaders. Continue reading and I will introduce you to Systems Thinking and how to use it to transform your tutoring business.

How do you view problems that occur in your tutoring business? Do you see them just a part of doing business? Are they random events that can’t really be avoided? Or are can they be traced back to a specific source – a flaw hidden somewhere in your business processes or systems? Systems thinking takes the latter view that problems are not isolated events, but rather the result of system failure.

Tenets of Systems Thinking

In his book “Work the System” Sam Carpenter discusses the concept of Systems Thinking and how it can be applied to businesses. He makes the following four statements of how problems should be viewed from a Systems Thinking perspective:

1) Quality products or services, a stable staff, and profitability are the result of the quality systems that produce them, not the reverse.

2) Problems are not isolated events, they are the result of system failure.

3) Whether an outcome is to your liking or not, the underlying system is performing exactly as it was constructed.

4) Once systems are examined and flawed components are exposed and repaired, systems will produce the desired result.

The word system refers to the various processes and procedures in your business that are necessary to accomplish the goals of your company. In a tutoring business this will include processes such as business promotion, responding to inquiries, billing students, scheduling, teaching, recruiting tutors, etc. A small business can have hundreds of systems that all work together to reach the goals of the business.

Now that you know what a system is, think for a moment how viewing your business from a systems perspective impacts the way you view problems in your business. Problems are no longer seen as random events, but rather the result of a system flaw that can be examined and repaired to prevent that problem in the future. This may seem like common sense, but the reality is that very few business owners actually view their businesses this way, or if they do they still lack an effective methodology for examining and repairing their systems. With the right method for implementing systems thinking in your business you can drastically reduce the time dedicated to putting out fires and focus it on more valuable activities to help you grow your business.

The Work the System Methodology

Carpenter provides a practical methodology he calls the “Work the System” methodology to help businesses implement systems thinking. His methodology has three steps:

  1. Separation, dissection and repair of systems – the process of exposing, analyzing and perfecting your business’s systems. This includes creating new systems and eliminating unnecessary ones.
  2. Documentation – Creating written goals, principles and processes that are guidelines for action and decision making. Using a word editor on your computer works best since you will need to update your systems as you go.
  3. Ongoing maintenance of systems – making adjustments to your systems to ensure they keep working at peak efficiency.

Documenting your systems is an extremely important step because it establishes a base from which to improve your systems. For instance, if your tutoring business has problems with students missing payments you would look at your billing and payments system and determine what can be changed in the system to avoid this problem such as switching to upfront payments for each lesson or even prepayment for blocks of lessons. After the changes have been documented and implemented, you watch the results to see if the problem has been eliminated or reduced. The results of documenting and improving your systems are cumulative. Each improvement you make will have lasting effects.

Another advantage of documenting your systems is that it allows your employees to learn and implement your systems easily. New tutors can be brought up to speed very quickly since you will have all processes affecting them written out step by step. As your company expands and you bring on staff, you can delegate administrative functions to your employees and they will know exactly how to perform their tasks.

Applying it to Your Tutoring Business

Systems thinking and the “Work the System” methodology can have an enormous impact on the success of your company especially if you want to grow your company and effectively manage the complexity that comes with a larger organization. This post gives a very brief introduction to systems thinking. If you’re interested in learning more about systems thinking and how to apply it to your business I would highly recommend reading “Work the System” by Sam Carpenter. In this book he describes the steps he took to transform his struggling telephone answering service – Centratel — into an industry leader using systems thinking.

Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less

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