Most Organizations Focus on People Instead of Systems

Posted by on Jan 11, 2011 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

A system is a method by which you achieve results.  The failure to achieve desired results is caused by the inadequacy of the method or system.  Because leaders and organizations don’t understand their systems, they then turn their attention on people.  Rather than understanding and improving their systems, they seek better results by exhorting and seeking to motivate their employees.
Employees work in systems.  The system existed before most of the people were hired and will continue after the current employees are gone.  Improving systems is hard work and must be lead from the top of the organization.  When a system is changed, people need to change what they do.  However, changing what people do will not necessarily change the system.
An example of a business owner or manager not thinking systemically is, “ Costs are out of control!  I want you all to find ways to reduce costs!  Start by buying less expensive supplies and materials and cut down on travel expenses.”  Without an understanding of systems, we look for scapegoats for what is happening instead of system based explanations.  Without understanding the reasons for out of control costs, the owner or manager jumps to a solution in hopes that it will somehow correct the situation.  In fact, buying cheaper supplies and materials may make things worse, creating additional defects, and increasing costs even more.
Costs are an output of a series of factors and interacting events.  If costs are truly out of control, then one or more factors or events or interactions in the series are out of control, which will require data to support it.  Looking at processes systemically and understanding systems will help avoid overly simplistic interpretations and solutions to complex problems.

2 Responses to “Most Organizations Focus on People Instead of Systems”

  1. Interesting perspective Jim. I would guess you are a systems person. However I disagree with your views

    I will give you that most organizations' failure to perform is related to faulty systems or faulty system execution. I also agree with you that trying motivate your people within those systems also can be ineffective.

    I think you underestimate the value of talent within an organization however. Talent is more than fitting in though. I believe a successful organization recognizes the resources its talent brings and adapts, or adjusts its “system” accordingly. I am firmly of the belief that the value of an organization lies fundamentally in its talent – not its products or even its systems and processes. Ultimately, its the talent that develops these systems anyway.

    A perfect example of our difference in opinion can be seen in the NFL. Some teams draft and acquire their players to fit in the system the coach runs. Other teams, focus on the best available players and mold the system around them. Which way is better, I suppose depends on the person or group developing the system, or at the least choosing the correct preexisting system.

    I spent nearly two decades as a headhunter. I saw companies using both models. Some were successful, some weren't. Those that banked mainly on the systems approach ran the the risk that their system was the right one for their company's situation. While those using the talent approach ran the “herding cats” risk. Again – which one is the correct path depends on factors far to numerous for us to debate in this post.

    Thanks for getting my synaptic connections firing though.

  2. Clay, I agree with you that talent within an organization makes a huge difference and getting the right people on the bus is critical. However, a lot depends on the culture of the organization and how improvement is looked upon. Often talented employees can get stifled very quickly if the culture doesn't promote continuous improvement.

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