If you’re not happy with the behavior of people on your team or in your organization, take a closer look at the systems they’re working in. Many organizations induce learned helplessness. People in them become victims of “the system.” Empowering helpless people without changing the systems they work within is worse than useless. It increases helplessness and cynicism. Systems shape behavior and actions. Good people are often worn down and worn out by ill designed systems that don’t support their work, don’t maximize their efficiency or effectiveness, and make it difficult for them to do their job. Potentially more damaging are systems that drive and reward counterproductive behaviors. Steve Kerr, Chief Learning Office of GE said it best: “Don’t ask for A while recruiting, selecting, training, promoting, rewarding, and recognizing B.”

Effective systems follow, serve, and support rather than control, direct, and dictate. Systems either enslave or enable. How do people in our organization feel systems are helping or hindering them?

Common Symptoms of Systems Problems:

  • Poor communication, cooperation, and collaboration.
  • Technology (hardware/software) incompatibilities.
  • Maintaining duplicate systems (electronic and manual).
  • Recurring errors, complaints, or problems.
  • Frustrations with bureaucracy/rules/complexity.
  • Low system usage/compliance.
  • Lack of useful performance data.
  • Abundance of Reports (often unread or unused).
  • Work-to-rule can dramatically shut things down.
  • Customers/partners bounced among departments.
  • Consistent customer or employee dissatisfaction.
  • Slow IS/IT/HR response time.
  • Weak external technology partner (hardware/software vendors) relationships.

Key Organizational Systems:

  • Technology/IT/ERP/E-Commerce.
  • Communications (Phone, Fax, E-Mail, Web Site, Intranet/Extranets).
  • Financial/Accounting/Invoicing/Budgeting.
  • Forecasting/Planning/Inventory Management.
  • Quality Management (ISO 9000, QS 9000).
  • HR/People (Recruiting, Hiring, Promoting, Career Management, Compensation, Reward and Recognition, Performance Management, Training, etc.).
  • Controls/Procedures/Policies.
  • Distribution/Delivery/Agencies.
  • Supplier Management.
  • Customer Service/Support.

Keys to Aligning Systems:

  • Design from the outside in.
  • Keep everyone focused on customers or those serving customers.
  • Involve those who will use it and/or make it work.
  • Work closely with technology vendors to develop system specifications.
  • Make certain any software adapts to our work processes rather than dictate the processes to us.
  • Ensure systems/structure are aligned with vision, values, purpose, and strategic imperatives.
  • Regular assessments of data/report usefulness.
  • Provide a single point of customer contact.
  • Keep it simple.

For additional resources on Systems and Structure, click here.

Click on each area below for more information on the Strategic Improvement Planning Process and Gap Analysis for your organization: