We do not rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems.

Brene Brown with Dr. Donald Sull and Charlie Sull on Dare to Lead

Welcome back to Week 8 of the miniMBA. We've entered the last week of the Connection section—all about the internal experience of our business. 

 If you are just joining us, you can catch up on the previous lessons here. Have you been finding these lessons valuable? This is a note to let you know that Early Bird Registration for the full Business Growth Program will open up next Monday November 7th! You can email me early to be put on my personal outreach list if you're interested in joining us in 2023.

Looking forward to continued learning in 2023! 


Whether it’s just you or 100 employees, your business functions as a collection of well-executed systems, from ordering inventory, hiring staff, and responding to customer complaints, these processes can be rationalized and documented.    

The instructions for executing these systems are collected in your company’s operations manual

This is the opportunity to operationalize your culture and ensure that the values you define are woven into the day-to-day operations of your company. It allows you to engage the actual stakeholders of the work - your employees - in building processes and procedures that allow them to thrive in their positions. Remember, your employees achieve your vision, and for that to be a reality, you want to provide all of the necessary information for them to succeed. For you to do your job well, they must be able to do their jobs well. 

I see business owners constantly overlook the importance of creating this manual because they assume that this information is common sense to employees. But employees aren’t mind-readers, and everyone benefits from guidelines. Though it may seem daunting and time-consuming to sit down and document these systems now, it will save you time, money, and energy in the future.

Here are five steps to get your operations manual in place.  

    1. Identify the systems  

Typically, operations manuals are divided into five sections—company and financial, personnel, organization, equipment, and marketing—and within each section, you must identify the systems your business utilizes daily.  These systems will vary from business to business, and the best way to understand which are relevant to your business is to walk yourself through a typical day at your business—from when the first employee enters the building to when the last employee leaves.  If you’re a solo entrepreneur, this task is simpler because you execute all of the systems yourself.  Suppose you’re a larger business with specific departments such as receiving, accounting, marketing, and human resources. In that case, you’ll need to work with the leader of each department to identify the systems and how they are executed.  

Here is a basic outline: 

  1. Company and Financial:  Include contact information for both employees and vendors, a list of passwords and account numbers, a brief description of the company background, the company’s mission statement, any press clippings relevant to the business, a list of who’s who of the leadership team, sales targets, pricing guidelines, tax information, and accounting protocols. You will need to determine who gets access to what on your team, but it must all be documented. 
  2. Personnel:  Include an organizational chart, job descriptions, employee handbook, employee schedules, and review forms. All of the tools you built out in Week 6.  
  3. Organization:  This section will vary widely based on the business and includes every daily procedure to run the business.  For example: how to open and close the business, how to order and maintain inventory, how to track an order, how to manufacture the product, how to fill and ship orders, etc.  
  4. Equipment: Include how to use and maintain any equipment in the office, shop, or backroom.  
  5. Marketing:  Include where to have materials such as business cards and brochures printed, your company’s social media protocols, how to post a weekly blog, etc. (More on this in the last section of the program.)

     2. Be succinct 

Once you’ve identified the systems, break each one down into a checklist format and capture every detail in writing; nothing is too minimal to leave out. It’s easier for an employee to reference a specific list of directions versus a lengthy explanation. For example, the owner of a retail store was genuinely frustrated that the plants never got watered and always died, and no one would ever take out the garbage.  She felt the messy store made a poor impression on customers and became frustrated with the employees. I pointed out that the actual problem wasn’t her employee’s fault because she had never assigned these responsibilities to anyone or given direction on when these tasks needed to be completed. We quickly created a 10-step checklist for closing the store and assigned responsibility to the salesperson. The problem resolved itself the week she put the closing system into practice.   

     3. Be consistent  

Get all of your employees on the same page from day one. If you’re hiring, use it as a reference tool while training.  If your staff is already up and running, I recommend you hold an all-staff meeting to unveil the manual and introduce the guidelines. A big event like this is helpful to set the tone moving forward.  

Once the manual has been introduced, be consistent with enforcing the guidelines. Clear systems are useless without accountability. If employees see that you don’t stand behind your policies, they’ll never follow them. Find a tracking system that works for your business. Consider a weekly walkthrough of the business or a weekly check-in with employees to ensure compliance. Most importantly, keep the manual accessible to employees. They'll never use it if they have to ask for it or look for it.  

    4. Allow for autonomy    

The point of this manual is not to micromanage. It’s about creating a structure within which employees can perform their roles to the best of their ability. Recently, I worked with a restaurant owner who was frustrated that the dinner specials never sold. We created a system for the servers to follow that included detailing the specials to each guest the first time they visited the table. The servers were instructed that once the steps of service were completed, they had the autonomy to create the rest of the customer service experience themselves, such as giving tastings of the wine or recommending their favorite dishes. The servers felt that the guidelines allowed them to create a more personable customer service experience because following the system ensured they covered the necessary points first.  

    5. Update it 

Remember, this is a living document.  If you’re not updating your manual at least once a year, it’s likely that most of the information in it will become irrelevant to your current process.  Mark it on your calendar and make it an annual event to revisit the systems and ensure they are still applicable.   A good rule of thumb is that when you sit down to do your annual planning for your business, update the systems too.  

I always recommend asking employees for feedback on improving the systems.  It doesn’t mean you must implement every suggestion they have, but listening to what they’re saying and acknowledging their contribution is just as valuable.

A business owner recently told me that before creating her operations manual, she was reinventing the wheel each day and never found the time to focus on growing the business.  But, once she went through this process and put her manual into practice, she raved that it was amazing how a few simple tools can turn a business around.  An operations manual is the tool you’ll need if you ever want to remove yourself from the day-to-day and watch your business grow. 


One of the biggest mistakes we can make if we are a product-based business is not planning long-term. When I say long-term, I'm talking about at least three years. Why three years? Because our production plan should include everything from research and ideation all the way through prototyping, manufacturing, pre-marketing, launch, and 6-mo post-launch assessment. Considering all of those phases, you can see how an idea may be conceived and prototyped in year 1, pre-marketed and launched in year 2, and reviewed for a 6-mo post-launch assessment in year 3. 

We often overlook the pre-marketing phase and don't give ourselves enough time to create a robust plan or the right assets for a launch, whether it's DTC, Wholesale, or to the Trade. We rush our production and often go against our values, trying to do too much in too little time. We put unnecessary stress on ourselves and or our team, which we can avoid if we are disciplined in planning further out into the future. 

Here is a list of phases you should consider: 

  • Research
  • Design
  • Prototype
  • Production
  • Marketing
  • Lauch
  • Warehousing 
  • Post-Launch Analysis



  •  Create your outline for your operations manual. Use the five sections above to identify all of the systems you need to create within your business. 
  • Identify who in the company can participate in documenting the systems. 
  • Set a deadline for completion; this is usually a long-term project. 
  • Ask yourself how your values inform the systems you're creating to build your business. Are you creating expectations that align with your values? 
  • Assemble your systems. 
  • Test your systems. 
  • Implement your systems. 
  • Hold yourself accountable to those systems :)

The Checklist Manifesto - Atul Gawande

The Advantage - Patrick Lencioni

The Operations Section of my page. 

Consider programs like Trainual and Sweetprocess. Google docs works great as well. 

Good luck! We'll see you here next Wednesday for the first lesson of the Experience section. Week 9: Marketing Relationships. If you have a colleague who should join us, they can sign up here


How is it the end of the year already?! This November, we'll read Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Marie Brown. This free event will be hosted on Tuesday, November 29th at 7PMEST via Zoom. Please email me to register. 

This email may contain affiliate links via such as our page. If you purchase through these, AHH may receive a small commission.


This week, I welcomed Luis Mojica to the pod to talk about his work at Holistic Life Navigation and how we relate to our businesses. 

And yesterday, I was back on the Buffer pod talking about getting support as a small business owner. I absolutely love about 24min in how my insight about going to therapy as a leader weaves right into Ari Weinzweig's personal share about his journey with therapy. It is so awesome to hear these conversations from mainstream entrepreneurs. This dovetails nicely with my conversation with Luis as well. 


You are receiving this email because we thought you would be interested in Ask Holly How.
You can or
unsubscribe or update your subscription preferences.

Add Holly to your
Ask Holly How

Add us to your address book" target="_blank" style="mso-line-height-rule: exactly;-ms-text-size-adjust: 100%;-webkit-text-size-adjust: 100%;color: #e88e46;font-weight: normal;text-decoration: underline;">address book