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Organizations Do Not Run On Systems

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by John Austin in Behavioral Leadership, Leadership

Many leaders I meet want their business to run on systems and processes. This can save time and prevent people from having to “recreate the wheel.”

Processes can add order and reduce ambiguity as to how things should be done. In many cases, if you follow a process, you will get a consistent outcome. They can also reduce the amount of training and skill required to execute one’s job.

It is also important to understand what processes don’t do. Processes and systems do not eliminate the need for personal contact, coaching, mentoring, and relationship building on your teams.

Many leaders want to use systems and processes to save time, and to engineer out the human decision elements to their work. I think this is a mistake and it could actually reduce outcomes in certain situations.

In each of the situations below, the outcomes depend on how people in your organization interact with each other. A great leader or manager can help with each of these, and a bad or careless leader can harm them.

    • Discretionary effort when someone goes above and beyond the work requirements. You don’t get this from people simply following the rules of the process or basic expectations. You don’t want it in every dimension of work, but when you want it to happen, it comes from the worker feeling motivated, engaged, and inspired.
    • You are in the business of thinking and idea creation. Even in my manufacturing clients who make the same product every day, they want their employees thinking. You can’t write a process or set of rules that makes someone think. It’s something they elect to do or not based on their work environment. In the right environment, you get better ideas from yourself and others.
    • Constructive feedback and difficult conversations are important to every organization I work with. Many think you can institute a system or process to make this happen. You can’t. You can facilitate it and take some of the friction out with technology. However, at the end of the day this is something that happens between two people, and it won’t work well if they don’t respect each other or at least have a relationship.

Don’t create systems in the hope of engineering out the human contact. The human contact is what makes your organization deliver the results you want.

Organizations do not run on systems. They run because people make them run.

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