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It’s the System That’s Wrong

Last week I was involved in a conversation with a person I met at a networking event where we were discussing problems they were having at their workplace with people not following processes. They asked me what I thought they should do to get people to follow the processes and stem the flow of issues. "How Do I get these people to just do what they should be doing!?" was the main question, the answer wasn't one they expected... Fix your System I said.

It's Always the System 

Our header reflects one of my favourite Deming quotes, no matter how often it's tested it proves to be true, it's an enduring fact, so much so I'm thinking about getting it on a T-Shirt, what do you think?

I explained that people, as a rule, don't get up in the morning thinking, right I'm off to work to really mess things up, they come to work to do the best they are able to do with the tolls they have. So, they will work with the equipment they have, the processes, the procedures, the training that they have and generally do the best they can. If that's not good enough then you need to look at the system you have set up since it's not helping them succeed.

But he said, others can get it right, there is just a handful that can't so it can't be the system, I'm sure at this point he felt pretty happy that the fledgling debate was over.

Intrigued a couple of questions sprang to mind trying and understand more so I asked how were these few problem children I asked? Are they left handed or right handed? Is English their first language, how are their literacy levels? I got a blank look.

Perhaps, I suggested, that these people had different learning preferences have you done a VARK assessment with them? A what!? VARK stands for Visual, Aural, Read/write, Kinaesthetic so people have different preferences for how they like to learn and how the best-absorbed information, it could be your training isn't suited to them I said, perhaps you have these people in a classroom but they are kinaesthetic learners so need to be hands on. We don't have anything like that he said.

Perhaps if English isn't the people's 1st language or they have learning difficulties such as dyslexia or struggle with literacy they may not be able to follow your written processes. He looked a little uncomfortable before finally, he said, We don't test for that he said.

So, I said perhaps you have some improvement opportunities in your recruitment and training processes?

Design for People Use 

What about the left hand / right hand thing? he asked Well I said, if you have designed your assembly line as most do you will only think about right handed people. Where the tools are positioned, where the instruction set or writing area is positioned how much space they have and so on. It can be quite frustrating for them. So, if you don't look at that when you are designing your process your manufacturing system may well be wrong.

Equally if the person is short sighted or it's too dull perhaps, they can't read the instruction sets, I'm working on the fact you have instruction sets I said. We do he confirmed but they are mostly words, so those visual people you mentioned may not enjoy them, nor people who don't have English as a 1st language. Again, it's a system thing and you aren't designing your systems with people, the users in mind. So, isn't that the engineers who are at fault then? (he seemed determined it was someone's fault) Well, I said, do you have a training program to educate your engineers on ergonomic layouts? No, he said, hmm… System we said together.

Bad People 

What about bad people he said, what about those people who just don't get on with anyone, who is horrible to deal with, rude and just a drain on resources, surely that's not System, that's just bad people!

You hired them, right? I asked, Not be but yes, the company hired them he retorted. So they go through your HR System, your interviews, your reference checks, your training programs. Then when they started to act out, they went through your coaching system to help them right? And if that wasn't possible you have a program for removing people from the organisation, don't you? I don't think we do well in that stuff he said. I smiled, perhaps you need to look at your systems some more I suggested. Moreover, perhaps you also need to look at your leadership development side of things as if you have people who are like this it's a good chance your leadership system created them.


​It's easy to jump to the conclusion that someone isn't trying or isn't capable or are just 'bad people' or 'bad fits', for some reason it's easier to jump here than jump to the thinking that there is something wrong with your system that is allowing this situation to occur. Looking hard at the issue and thinking where your system could be breaking down and allowing this situation to occur is the start of something that is quite frankly magical. It is the start of a people-centric approach that fundamentally believes people want to do the very best they can but the system is getting in the way. It may be one system, or it may be many systems combining to give you a perfect storm. It's not until you step back and understand that the system is indeed perfectly designed to get the results it gets. Change the System.

Get In Touch

If you need any support in developing or improving your systems to help improve your organisation and your teams then click here to make an appointment and find out how we can help you Make Things, Better

You can also call John on 0211649739 to set up a meeting 


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Wednesday, 02 December 2020

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