Struggling to improve your business? Why every employee could learn from “the rule of two.”

Trying to improve your business? Before looking outward, start with your current employees, and take some advice from George Lucas.

Star Wars fans (warning: nerd moment coming up) may know that the “rule of two” is a concept that says that there can only be two people in power: a master and an apprentice. The master teaches the apprentice everything they know and one day, when they are stronger and know more than the master, the apprentice ruthlessly takes over (usually by killing the master) and finds their own apprentice.

That’s fiction, though. Welcome back to the real world, not so long ago, and not very far away.

There is a different kind of “rule of two” in business. It’s not about taking over the universe or killing off your boss, thankfully. It is about focusing on the two things that every employee should be doing 90-100% of their workday. And surprisingly, it’s not too different from what George Lucas was presenting to us in Star Wars.

I’ll lay the business “rule of 2” out in steps.

Step 1: The Master

In order to improve your processes, first you have to be the master over them.

I’ll admit that I don’t know what your job is. I don’t know your boss, your job description, or what you are faced with every day. But I do know that if you are a CEO, shop floor manager, fire juggler, accountant, doctor, receptionist, shipper, taxi driver, fortune teller, or have any other job, you are responsible for a set of tasks.

The majority of your day should be performing these tasks to the best of your ability, usually as defined by those who came before you. This definition, when spelled out correctly, should be the guide to not only how you do your tasks, but also how well you do them.

But are you following the guide? And why is following it important?

Mmmmm… pie!

Think of it like this. If I’m baking apple pies, and use slightly different ingredients and follow a slightly different process each time, I’m going to get a different result each time, aren’t I?

One of my pies is going to be tastier.

One will have a flakier crust.

One may cook differently.

Now, if you are buying my pies, do you want to know that the apple pie that you loved the first time might be different than the next apple pie you buy from me? Of course not.

The same is true for every part of your business. The pie in the example above represents the tasks in your job.

If an employee performs their tasks differently each time, or different than their peers, then you are almost guaranteed to make a different pie. In the business world, that means higher costs, more waste, slower turnaround times, and dissatisfied customers.

A master knows their tasks and can perform them very specifically. They can reproduce their tasks under the same circumstances every time.

To maximize your efficiency and get the most out of your business, the majority of every employee’s time should be not just “doing the job,” but performing the job exactly as designed.

It is only when they do this that they become the master.

Step 2: The Apprentice

The apprentice in the “rule of two” isn’t an intern that follows you around and does some of the work for you. Sorry to disappoint. Instead, the apprentice is the part of your work day that should be spent on identifying gaps in the process and making improvements.

When the master in you is working well, and you are performing your tasks exactly as designed, then the apprentice in you can really shine.

Issues within current processes become clear to all. Solutions are not only easier to come up with, but they are accepted and implemented much more successfully. Work-arounds begin to disappear. Your current processes become more efficient, making for lower costs and better outcomes.

Every employee should have the master and the apprentice working within them at all times.

Master your business

If you have a lot of process variation, you can’t master it. And without a master, you can’t have an apprentice that improves what you already have.

If you don’t have both of these in your daily job, or in your business, then the first thing you need to focus on is hard-wiring your processes.

Do you have processes?

Are they well established and written out?

Are they understood by all?

Can your leaders enforce and support them?

Most highly successful business do this well. It’s not easy to accomplish, and can’t happen overnight. But neither can taking over the universe.

May the force be with you.

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