‘Systems transform lives.’
After discovering the power of systems and processes in her career with McDonalds, Marianne Page now spends her time teaching small business owners that life-changing systems and processes aren’t just for big companies.
We also talk about the joy of management, the power of the deadline, and the smart way to write a book…
Marianne’s site: https://www.mariannepage.co.uk/
Marianne’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5ocNWsGvx2-EJQ6U8vSP1Q
Marianne on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Purposefullives
Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky
Marianne’s PI-Q webinar (22 July): https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/pi-q-webinar-building-a-resilient-business-tickets-108991061198
See all PI-Q webinars and replay links: https://practicalinspiration.com/pi-q
The EBBC Summer Reading List 2020: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/34626998-alison-jones?shelf=ebbc-summer-reading-list-2020
The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/
This Summer Means Business (combined proposal challenge and writing retreat): https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=this-summer-means-business
Proposal Challenge only: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=proposal-challenge-july-2020
Virtual Writing Retreat only: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=virtual-writing-retreat-summer-2020
Alison Jones: I’m here today with Marianne Page, who is an award-winning leader and developer of high-performing teams, inspiring successful small business owners to build the simple systems and high-performing team that will free them from the day to day of their operations. Marianne developed a number of high-performing teams of her own during her 27-year career as a senior manager with McDonald’s and developed over 14,000 managers and franchisees over an 8-year period as the company’s training manager. And for the last 10 years, Marianne has worked closely with successful business owners who’ve overcomplicated their life and their business, helping them to develop the systems and the structure that will make their operation consistent and free them to work on their business rather than in it. Marianne is the bestselling author of Simple Logical Repeatable, The McFreedom Report and Process to Profit and her new book, Mission: To Manage: Because managing people doesn’t need to be mission impossible, is out in July from Practical Inspiration. Welcome to the show, Marianne.
Marianne Page: Thank you so much for having me, Alison, I’m really looking forward to this.
Alison Jones: I mean, everybody’s listening to that and going, Oh, that’s what I need. That’s what I need. I need simple strategies and systems and processes. And we’re all like, ‘Yes, but HOW?’, so, let me start off by asking you when you had that great long career at McDonalds, which is the absolute pinnacle of optimizing processes, isn’t it, what did you learn there?
Marianne Page: Well, it’s really interesting actually, because I obviously loved my career with McDonald’s and I was telling somebody else had the day, my mother used to refer to it as a glorified fish and chip shop when I first started working there. And I actually only joined it until I could find a proper job, but I, but I loved it and I learned so much and I was constantly challenged to move into different areas of the business to learn new skills.
But when I left, I actually didn’t appreciate that the biggest thing I learned was how to systemize, and the importance of systems. And it was somebody else who said, well, you worked for McDonalds, they’re all about systems. And I thought, oh my God, yes, because there was, you know, there was a system for everything, but we never talked about systems, I’d never heard of the words Lean Six Sigma till I left, thank God. So all of that negative language of systems, I only learned once I actually left the business. I guess the biggest thing McDonalds taught me was how to replace myself, you know. So if the systems didn’t exist already, develop the systems, train the team to use the systems and then follow up to make sure that they did, and then get out of their way. I replaced myself several times over the course of my career because that was just the way everybody was taught to grow and develop themselves in their career.
Alison Jones: It’s such an interesting approach to it, isn’t it: replacing yourself? And you can only do that if you’re fairly confident that you have the wings that will take you onto the next thing
Marianne Page: Oh, no doubt. Definitely. But you were given so much support, so much input. I mean one of the reasons that I got into developing managers within my business was because I remembered back to the days of starting out in management with McDonalds and they had four levels of management development programme, you know, so, you’ve worked through one, you worked at it, you developed your skills and your confidence, then you moved on to the next level and so on. and I see so many managers now who just don’t have any development at all. but I was always taught and certainly looking back this is the way I was treated that from day one, you train the employee to have the skills, but you develop the person to allow them to fulfill their potential, whether that’s with your business or, you know, or with, with somebody else. and if you think about the way McDonalds operate at restaurant level certainly, loads of young people have their start in life, starting their business life as a team member within a McDonalds restaurant. And they learn so much about teamwork – you’re working in a business environment, working in a busy environment, the values that that team has, you know, to support one another and if you talk to a lot of ex McDonalds crew members as they used to be called an ex McDonald’s crew members who are now, you know, in successful careers elsewhere or running businesses elsewhere, they will always look back on that time as that’s where I learned about management. That’s where I learned about being a good team member. You know, I learned so much from that time. So it’s, you know, to be honest, whether you love the food or hate it you have to admire the consistency and reliability, that the McDonalds business has had over years and years.
And they will, you know, we’re recording this currently, obviously in the middle of this, coronavirus crisis and McDonald’s will accelerate out of it because they have the systems in place, they have the people in place, they have the leaders in place who will ensure that they do accelerate out of it as they have accelerated out of many crises over the years.
Alison Jones: And that’s the interesting thing, isn’t it? It’s not just systems for the sake of it, it’s systems because of what it gives your business. And it’s not just training, as you say, for the sake of it, it’s training because of what that will do for the success of your business longterm and its resilience and so on.
But McDonald’s is one of the biggest businesses in the world; how does that focus on systems, on that structured training programme for managers, how does all that translate when you’re running a small business by the seat of your pants?
Marianne Page: Yeah, well, the big thing that I try to get every business owner to think about is that there is one right way to do everything in a McDonald’s. And if you can have one right way to do everything in your business, it makes it so much easier for every new person coming in. He’s just trained in that one right way, rather than Jane’s way, John’s way and Manjit’s way and Susie’s way of doing the same one task. So if you can look at every routine that you have in your business, for example, and just take those things that you do every single day or every single week, and think, do we have one right way that everybody follows in our business. And if you can just stick a stake in the ground and go, right, for every week for the next 52 we are going to look at creating one right way to do a different routine task in our business, you would soon start to see the benefit of it, from a bringing new people in, from a consistency for the whole team, but also for your customers.
I often say, you know, there’s only one way to cook French fries at McDonald’s: it’s the right way. Nobody would dream of doing it any other way, but it’s not the having of processes that’s important, it’s the people following them that’s important. So, you do have to have some way of training people in how to use your one right way, following up to make sure that they do, and giving them feedback when they do or when they don’t.
Alison Jones: Yes. And I think it’s pretty obvious. People can immediately see the benefits of that, you know, it’s a consistent customer experience. It means if Susie is off, then the thing still gets done and you can write it down and you can onboard people. But what’s interesting as well, and what we’ve discovered – we’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years, really getting our processes – I mean, you know, we’re still not a hundred percent there, but we’re a lot better than we were…
Marianne Page: It’s an ongoing journey.
Alison Jones: Exactly.
Marianne Page: Yes.
Alison Jones: But, oh my goodness: A, it forces you to really think about what you’re doing and why, which is fantastic, but B it also, when you routinize that kind of stuff, you don’t have to spend time thinking about it and looking back to see what you did last time and this, that, and the other, it gives you much more time to focus on the really interesting stuff.
And I think this is interesting in the conversation of, you know, increasing automation and how we’re using artificial intelligence in the workplace as well.
Marianne Page: Yes. I mean, I’m a big believer that you create the system and then you automate it. Unfortunately, an awful lot of businesses get that the wrong way around there. They think, Oh, look at this lovely piece of software or this great system, or bring it in, an IT system, bring it in and then we’ll just fit around the system.
Well, it doesn’t work effectively like that. It’s much better to decide what is right for you and why it’s right for you, which is really important then to automate it. but it’s interesting, I’ll just go back to what you said a second ago about I’m writing down what you do: I’m a massive believer in wherever possible, recording what you do.
You know, whenever we go to learn something new these days, we tend to go to YouTube and watch a video on how to do it. And not enough businesses take advantage of that way of learning and recording what your task is. Loom is a Chrome extension, obviously there’s QuickTime on an Apple Mac that you can record your screen and you talking to your screen as you do a task. So it means that not only is it much quicker to get down your process, but actually as you’re doing the process, you’re talking to the screen, you’re saying, ‘Oh, it’s really important that you do this little bit often this gets forgotten, it’s so important, you know, the reason why we do this is…’ and it’s a much more holistic, quicker and more effective way of recording processes, than writing down, step one, do this step two, do this step three, do this. So whenever I get the opportunity, I feel I have to jump on that. So, so pardon that little diversion down there.
Alison Jones: no, no, no. And it’s fascinating. It’s because we’ve used Camtasia a few times and we use it for training videos and so on. But, you know, I love that. I mean, I guess you can complement that by putting it through an AI transcription system and then you get the script as well. So it’s searchable and scannable, all that good stuff.
Marianne Page: Absolutely. Definitely.
Alison Jones: Fantastic. And you’ve written several books now, Marianne. So do you have a nice process and a system for this? You know, how does that work?
Marianne Page: I’m a massive believer in mind-maps, I love all spider diagrams as I usually refer to them. I love just having my sort of central idea. and then just coming off it. Okay. So what are, what are all of the other big ideas that immediately come to mind off that, and then taking the big ideas and breaking those down into, okay, so what are all the elements of that big idea that I would want to want to get across? I mean, with the books that I’ve written, I’ve usually had an idea mulling around in my head some time before I eventually put pen to paper. But yeah, my mind maps are usually my way to go.
I have tried the, using post it notes. you’re sticking loads of post it notes in rows and so on, but it doesn’t work for me in the same way as picking up a pen and a large sheet of A3 and then just getting every idea down that I can think of. And then going back and, and looking at how I want to structure each other.
I’m very big on structure generally, as you might expect…
Alison Jones: Do you know, why am I not surprised to hear this?
Marianne Page: …as you might expect. Yes. So I’m imagining somebody reading through each chapter and what are the big chunks that they would like, how am I going to, what’s the call to action on the end of it? Because the other thing for me with, and I’m the same with reports, I don’t see the point of having a report unless there’s action at the end of it, there’s something to do. And with the books I’ve written, I’ve always wanted there to… you know, I want people to act on them. I don’t want anybody to just read and go, ‘Oh, that was interesting.’ I want them to do something with the information I’ve given them because, I don’t think I’m overstating it to say that systems actually do transform lives, you know, the business owner who just didn’t go away for a day without checking in on the team, you’re freeing them from that need to check in all the time. Now just thinking about my, my McDonald’s life, you know, I joined McDonald’s and within a year I was made restaurant manager. And it would be great to say it was because I was just so talented and brilliant, but actually it was just because I learned the systems and I learned how to follow them.
I had two 18 year old, actually one was 17 years old, floor managers who worked with me and I could go on holiday and leave those two to run the business quite happily because they just followed the systems. And everybody, you know, as I said about, there’s only one way to cook French fries, everybody was trained to just follow the systems in their area of the business. So everybody took ownership. Yes, absolutely you still needed to manage people you know, not everybody was a brilliant team member who just came in and did everything perfectly, but, that’s much easier, to fix the exceptions than your whole business being an exception.
Alison Jones: Yes. How do you manage exceptions? I’m going to go back and talk about your writing in a minute because I don’t want to just leave everybody with a mind map, I want to know the next stage, but I want to pick up on something you just said about managing exceptions, because more and more, most of us are in businesses where exceptions are more and more the norm and what you did last year actually isn’t fit for purpose anymore, there are new tools and there are new issues to consider. How do you balance systematizing and routinizing and, you know, training people in the one way with constantly monitoring: is this still the right way?
Marianne Page: Yes, brilliant, brilliant question. I love that. Well, the way I do it is the way I was taught to do at McDonald’s, which is to have a 90-day review. And it’s, you know, everybody, no, actually not everybody, a lot of people buy into the idea of 90-day goals and, you know, constantly moving the business forward in terms of the next…
Alison Jones: I love a 90-day plan. I find it a great rhythm for the business.
Marianne Page: Absolutely. I love the rhythm that it gives you. But what we were taught to do at McDonald’s is to have the real discipline of reviewing what worked and what didn’t work and what we need to change for the next 90 days. So it wasn’t all just about, you know, what’s the next big, shiny thing on the horizon, it was also: what did we learn? What didn’t work? What has changed, you know, is there a particular system that actually, you know, we’ve got a new bit of software now that’s changed the needs for what we used to do in the past? So how do we create this new system going forward?
So there was an awful lot of discipline in. When I say looking at our systems every quarter, we didn’t, you know, we really didn’t look at our systems every quarter, not every single one of them, but we did spot things that didn’t work as well as they should have done, and there’s just this, the 90 day rhythm actually is constantly looking for. for improvement, you know, that, that whole continuous improvement cycle, every 90 days, looking back, what can we learn from the last 90 days? Looking forward, what does that mean for the, for the 90 days coming? and that’s certainly how I was always taught to manage exceptions and how I continue to work with business owners to manage theirs.
Alison Jones: And that works at any size of business, doesn’t it?
Marianne Page: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, You know, a lot of people go, ‘Oh yeah. But McDonald’s, you know, they’re a huge corporation, they can afford to do X, Y, and Z’ or, ‘Well, the restaurant business is very different to mine.’ I get so much of the ‘Oh, but it’s all very different in my business.’ But the truth is that McDonald’s started using systems when they were a tiny, tiny little business, you know, they were a drive to, they didn’t have a dining area, they didn’t have a drive through, they had a drive to, you know, they were tiny and then they were so systemized, which is what caught Ray Crock’s attention in the first place.
Alison Jones: Yeah.
Marianne Page: So, so there’s… every single business that exists benefits from systems, every business owner, you know, that, that one task that you do the task that you do once a year, and I’ve been guilty of this myself, you go, ‘Oh God, how did I do that? What did it…’ and you got to go back onto Google or, you know, you’ve got to spend an hour researching when actually, if you just recorded a video, as you did it, there you’d have it.
And, you know, we’re all a bit guilty of that. So. yeah, so, so exceptions, that definitely it’s about that rhythm and about that 90 day review as well as forward looking.
Alison Jones: That’s such a genius answer. I’m really glad I asked that question, but, but now I want to take you back to the writing process. So we’ve got a spider diagram. You’ve had this idea. It’s a process, isn’t it. I’m moving from this very inarticulate sort of shape of a thing that’s buzzing around in your head and, you know, ends with the finished book. So I’m just really interested in the process that gets you there. So you’ve done the mind mapping. You’ve explored to the point where you’re like, yep. Everything I need to talk about on this topic I’ve now captured on my mind map: then what?
Marianne Page: Well, what I’ve done with this latest book, which I didn’t do with the others, is I’ve actually used blogs and videos to get my thoughts really clear. So, so for each strand, I though, okay, so what would a blog look like here? And I’ve actually either written a blog or recorded a video that have then put up on my YouTube channel.
And also actually I’ve benefited with my latest book from developing the management development programme. So I had already done that. I went back and looked at that, looked at the feedback that I’d had from people who’d gone through the programme, thought about what was missing there, and then again, just thought, right: so what would a independent piece of content on that subject look like, what are all the things that I would need to put in there? And then again, written the blog. So for me, it can be a long process.
It’s interesting how much longer this book took to write than my last book, which… the ideas had just been mulling around in my head for so long that I went straight from mindmap to writing it. And it just came out of me because I’d just been thinking about it for so long that it just, it was there. That was so wonderful.
Alison Jones: But I know that an awful lot of people really struggle with the writing process. For me, it has to be a discipline. I have to write when I’ve got the book in my head, I’ve got, well, two things, one I’ve got to say to a publisher, ‘What’s my deadline? If I want to be out by then, what’s my deadline?’ I have to work to deadlines.
I remember that conversation.
Marianne Page: Absolutely. It’s what’s my drop deadline and then work back from there. Okay. So I absolutely have to be writing a couple of hours a day, or if I’m not, if I, if there’s a week when I can’t write a couple of hours a day, then I need to put aside a day to just write.
And I know that I’m lucky because I actually love writing. I love the whole process of it. I love…. I’m sure you must have found this, Alison, sometimes you just write, and then you look back and you go, Oh my God, did I really…?’
Alison Jones: Yes. ‘Where did that come from?’
Marianne Page: Absolutely. It’s just one of the big joys in my life is doing that. I just love it, oh my God…
Alison Jones: It’s a feeling of shift, isn’t it. In your head afterwards as well. It’s almost like a physical sense of having moved yourself forward.
Marianne Page: Yes, absolutely. The other thing for me in particularly again with this book, was that I got the first draft down – not the first draft that you saw, the first draft that was my first draft…
Alison Jones: nobody needs to see the very first draft, do they?
Marianne Page: Nobody needs to see the very first… because actually I was really unhappy with it. I, you know, I knew that there were elements of it that were as I wanted them to be, but there was just something missing.
There was a spark missing from it. and I just gave, I allowed myself to have a couple of weeks where I just sat on it and then I took myself off to, it was Center Parcs in Woburn for a couple of days. And I just sat with that first draft and I just went through it and something clicked and it just all came, and I was, Oh, I was just so much happier with the draft that you saw, the first draft that you saw, my second draft – so much happier with it. I think sometimes you do just have to give yourself a little bit of breathing room so you’re not just racing to that deadline, you know, so that you just give anything over in that first draft, you’ve just got to give yourself a little bit of time to sit with what you’ve written and look at it and go, ‘Okay, that was okay. What can I do to make this miles better than okay?’
Alison Jones: That’s brilliant. And when you were doing the blogs and so on this time round, what did you notice?
Marianne Page: Yes. I’d thought that I had covered everything off in the managers’ development program was one of the big things I noticed. And actually there was so much more to give on, on particular subjects, like the mindset around being a manager.
I really focused a lot on that, you know, it’s become the meat at the front end of the book, that you really need to have a healthy mindset around managing people, you know, that it’s, it’s not all pain. that it’s actually a responsibility rather than power, because I’ve seen so many… and people going through the programme, I’ve seen so many managers that have a very negative view of what managing people is like, and a lot of business owners, you know, you hear ‘God, God, I’m managing people, oh God,’ whereas to me, it’s taking raw potential raw talent and moulding it into something where they are believing in themselves.
And it is a real joy for me, taking somebody that’s, you know, I’ve seen it so many times in my restaurant manager role, you know, they’re rocking through the door, they’ve got their hair down over their eyes. They barely look at you. And then within a week or two at the most they’re responding to somebody taking time with them, taking time to teach them how to do something to, you know, so that they can take ownership of it. So, sorry, going back to your original question, it was just that I saw things in a bigger context when I was writing the blogs, it just became… because I took each piece and, and saw it as an end in itself, it just became more powerful and stronger.
Alison Jones: And I’m guessing that that fed backwards then into the programme as well.
Marianne Page: Absolutely. Absolutely, yes, the, the program is much more all encompassing than it was before. And I’m really looking forward actually to being able to give all of the students a copy of the book, you know, because it’s, you know, it’s going to inspire, this is my hope, that it’s going to inspire so many people who might be thinking, oh I really don’t want to be a manager, or really struggling in the early days of management, just to see it as something more than something that the boss doesn’t want to do.
Alison Jones: Something I have to do, right? Yes. Well, I feel really inspired, actually. People management, I have to say, is not my favourite thing in the world either, but I feel newly inspired, so thank you. And I love that thing that when you were giving each small element oxygen, when you were creating the blog, when you were looking at it in its own right, it gave you a different perspective on it. I think that’s a really interesting insight.
Now, Marianne, I always ask people for their single best tip. You know, you’ve written several now and you’ve got your way of doing it. And you’ve already given us a lot of stuff, so I’m being a bit greedy, but if there’s somebody listening who’s struggling with their first book, what’s the single best tip that you would give them?
Marianne Page: Hmm. I believe that if you write from the heart with the idea of giving generously, that you will have enough to inspire others. You know, so many people go, ‘Oh God, will anybody get anything from this?’ You know, we all have so much, we’re all unique, we all have very different experiences. We all come at things in different ways. So, you know, whether there are a million books on your subject, there is only one you, and your heart’s going into your book is way more powerful than, than anything. It’s way more, it’s so powerful. And just that belief that I have something special to give will make your book really special and make it so that those who it’s written for will know that it’s written for them and will love you for it.
Alison Jones: Oh, I love that because you… you’re so tactical in so many ways. You’ve got lots of, you know, the mind map is a really sort of practical tip that you can use, but actually underneath it all, it’s all about the why, isn’t it? And it’s all about your own passion for your subject.
Brilliant. Thank you. And I know that you’re a thoughtful reader as well. One of the things I really love about your book is that, I mean, you know, I’m a sucker for appendices and endmatter, but I love your bibliography, because you don’t just list books. You say what you love about them and why they’re useful.
So I’m looking forward to this. What’s your business book recommendation, Marianne?.
Marianne Page: Well, can I have a few?
Alison Jones: We were already pretty over time
Marianne Page: Yes, sorry…
Alison Jones: They’d better be good.
Marianne Page: But very quickly – start with why – you said about your big why – I just think that is just a genius book.
Alison Jones: Simon Sinek, Start With Why?
Marianne Page: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. I love the simplicity of the One-Minute Manager of Ken Blanchard. But I also love, and this is very, you know, my personal thing, I’m a big lover of Alex Ferguson’s management, of what he managed to get out o f players, Alex Ferguson as in ex-Manchester United manager, who wrote a book or had it written for him within leadership. And just his view on what it takes to be a leader, I just love that whole, real personal insights into how you get the best out of very different people and out of, you know, hugely well-paid, professionals, how you get them to work so hard.
Alison Jones: Is at the other end to the McDonald’s staff, isn’t it?
Marianne Page: Absolutely. And I love that it’s, you know, because he just squeezed every ounce of potential out of people and inspired them to be the best versions of themselves. And that’s what I’d want for myself, but I want for every manager: that it’s about getting the most out of the people that you’re working with, and not being afraid of people who are way more talented than you might ever be, you know, and seeing that as a real plus, rather than it than a negative, so yes, they would be my three.
Alison Jones: Brilliant. I’ve never had Alex Ferguson recommended before. There you go, that’s a first for the club. Love it. And Marianne, if people want to find out more about you, where should they go?
Marianne Page: Definitely come to my website, mariannepage.co.uk, also at the minute I’m doing loads on video. So, I check out my YouTube channel, which is Mariannepage YouTube. or just get in touch with me on email, which is email@example.com.
Alison Jones: I will put all those links up on the show notes at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com, if you didn’t quite get them down in time. Marianne, such a pleasure and such a wide-ranging conversation as well. Thank you so much for your time today.
Marianne Page: My absolute pleasure, thanks. Always lovely to talk to you, Alison.