Most of your organisation’s problems derive from systems, processes and methods, not just individual workers. While, Changing the system will change what people do, reverse it does not hold true. If an organisation wishes to become more efficient and achieve higher grounds, then it must think unconventionally. Here are some good reasons why we should consider it:
- Global Marketplace: In today’s world, organisations must compete with domestic and international quality, standards and innovation.
- Customer-first: We must seek to continually understand our customer’s needs and try to cultivate long-term relationships with our customers.
- Lean and efficient: To deliver better outcomes, we must improve our processes, products, offerings and thus the system. An organisation will be sure to gain both quality and improved market share by triggering this chain reaction.
Sometimes the difference between the old way and the new way is both profound as well as subtle. Consider Magic Eye (TM) for an example; anyone can see a variety of figures and colours; however, with focus, 3D images emerge. What I mean is that leaders must learn to look differently. While one sees shades and hues, others see something entirely different and beautiful.
We are programmed to think of the organisation as a chain of commands in terms of structure and hierarchy. While people’s focus is essential and has obvious advantages, it is not the whole system. Fads like empowerment, teams, self-directed groups, motivation, incentives, accountability, et al. fail to appreciate the system, and above all of these together cannot compensate for a dysfunctional system.
Without a conscious understanding of the system, its purpose, constituent dependencies & interdependencies, people’s focus alone won’t bring desirable results.
A well-run organisation with a sound functioning system allows people from top to bottom to do work they can be proud of.
What is a system
To understand it, let’s break it down into pieces and then put it together. The following describes the characteristics of a system:
- A holistic view, a whole composed of several parts, e.g. a car
- Has a definable purpose, e.g. a car’s purpose is to provide personal transportation
- Each part of the system contributes to the system’s purpose, but no part by itself achieves that purpose, e.g. Wheels, engine, steering wheel
- Each part of the system has its own purpose and are interdependent parts
- We can understand the parts by seeing how it fits in the system. However, we cannot understand the system by looking at the entire unassembled parts collection.
- By examining the parts in a system, their interaction helps us build an understanding of the system’s working. However, to make it more useful, it must also align to external systems like laws of land, e.g. Pollution emission norms, safety features requirement et el.
- To better understand a system, we must first seek to understand its purpose, its interactions, its dependencies & interdependencies. Looking at it alone may lose its essential characteristics.
- Therefore when we look at an organisation, we are looking at a complex social system and a technical system.
- While an organisation has its interest, purpose, and interacting, independent parts, It is just only just another interacting, independent part in an even larger system. For instance, industry, sector, the nation & the world.
- An organisation’s interacting & interdependent parts like individuals, teams, departments, divisions and so on have their own interests & purpose that may affect positively or negatively, affecting the organisation’s ability to achieve its purpose.
- A system includes feedback loops that inform those working within the system – about how well it is functioning. Without this feedback loop, there will be no improvement. e.g. Dashboard of an elite car with thousands of sensors built in to monitor and report its performance and sends alerts for the detected malfunction(s).
Purpose & System Thinking
The purpose of the system is inseparable from the notion of systems; without a defined purpose, you cannot determine whether your system is functioning well or poorly or not at all. Without the purpose, you won’t know how to improve or redesign the system. System thinking helps us avoid overly simplistic interpretations of an overly complex problem. If we wish to improve the organisation, we should promote system understanding and embrace the purpose.
The highest use of the capital is not alone to make some more money but to make money more the betterment of life.Henry Ford.
One chronicle problem with organisations, work units and jobs of individuals is purpose is often unclear or constantly changing. Such inconsistency and ambiguity make it impossible to have system thinking. On the other hand, when the purpose is clear, we can identify the customer needs (those) that must be served and learn from them what output and services they need or changing. Then we can define the processes suitable to meet those requirements. In a broader sense, inputs material, supplies, policies, plan, customer and market research, organisation structure, leadership style, values, mission & vision; communication modes, methods and techniques; education and training resources, and all the tangibles and intangibles that are needed work together in a manner that both delights the customer and serves the purpose of the organisation.
Purpose tells an organisation – why it exists. The purpose is best described from the customer’s point of view, rather than defining your product and services, benefits of your products or capability your customers acquire as a result of interacting with you.
Here is a little story to illustrate my point – In the 1970s, Konica wanted to develop a breakthrough camera product; thus, Konica engaged in a large survey with the customers. The R&D team was disappointed with the survey results, which only suggested minor changes to the existing designs. In one of the meetings, Mr Takanori Yoneyama, the chairman of Konica, present this observation:
“Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions. We ask for feedback on the camera. However, people don’t purchase our camera to own a camera; they purchase the camera to take the pictures…therefore perhaps, we should start seeking feedback on pictures.”
Sitting down with customers’ photographs was a revelation, pictures were pretty bad – out of focus, too light, too dark, super-imposed upon one another. In each case, ]customers blamed themselves, not the camera. In the spirit of genchi genbutsu in lean (go and see to grasp the situation). The team learned that some of the main issues were to do with lack of flash, subject out-of-focus and improper film advancement.
From this feedback, Konica invented the error prof camera: automatic focusing, lens opening, adjustments, automatic film forwarding, and flash. Now customers love both camera and their photographs.
The purpose of your organisation is, therefore, related to the benefits or capabilities acquired by your customers as a result of their interaction with you. Purpose of an organisation, in Hertzberg’s words – “work worth doing”, such a business, if it is well-led, is likely to prosper.
Dr Kano, N. (n.d.). Life Cycle and Creation of Attractive Quality. Retrieved from http://huc.edu/ckimages/files/KanoLifeCycleandAQCandfigures.pdf
Scholtes, P. R. (1998). The leader’s handbook: Making things happen, getting things done. The McGraw-Hill Companies.