Every System Is Perfectly Designed


At least, every system is perfectly designed to get the results that it gets.

Yes, we are all individuals, mostly capable of influencing our own performance. But any organization, whether it’s a for-profit company, a non-profit group, a family unit, a small team…it doesn’t matter. We can’t help but be influenced by the systems that surround us; the norms, the priorities, the culture, the symbols, the values, the goals, the standard operating procedures–they set the boundaries of default behavior.

So what do we do if the feedback on our customer service isn’t great? Do we target the under-performers and demand that they work harder/be nicer/smile brighter? Or do we look at the training they receive, the incentives we offer and how we treat them when they do great work and when they make a mistake?

There is a wise adage in the field of computer science. GIGO. Garbage In – Garbage Out. It usually refers to the fact that computers will process whatever nonsensical data you put in to them–spitting out equally nonsensical data in return. I think it can also apply to the nonsense we as leaders put into a system–the unfair demands, unequal treatment, not treating people as actual humans, not giving people a voice….etc. It seems perfectly logical to me if we put that stuff in, then we will receive output we don’t want.

But people aren’t computers, right? Shouldn’t they should be able to act appropriately, regardless of the situation? Yes, they should. And I’m not abdicating them of responsibility. We need people to be the shock absorbers for when the system hits a bump or a snag. But if the system is toxic enough or requires too much energy from your people to keep absorbing the garbage you put in, then they will quit or worse, turn into people who don’t care anymore.

So if employees are not performing up to the desired standard, or — scary stuff — you want to engage more people (different people), it’s time to shake up the system.

Easier said than done, of course. Some people will resist change because there is still a two year-old in all of us. We like things they way they are because we understand them, we can predict what’s coming, its safe, its easy. But changes don’t have to be big to be meaningful.

And the good thing? The changes just have to start with us.

~Veronica Ciolfi