How To Manage Work Systems, Not Behaviors...


Too Many Managers Manage The Behaviours and Not The Work Systems…


System thinkers are still too few and far between, especially in organisations where managers and leaders at all levels of the business continue to try and change behaviours by telling employees to behave differently, or try to train or coach it “out of them” to get better results. However, it’s the work systems that create the unwanted behaviour in the first place.

It’s sad to think that managers still believe that some people come to work to do a poor job and those people need to be dealt with in some way or other. As you may know these are recognised as Theory X Managers. Maybe some employees that behave inappropriately do exist, but only a small minority.

Systems Thinkers, like the consultants at NewLeaf International, understand that systems (both tangible, hard systems and cultural soft systems) create the unwanted behaviour.

It’s based on the theory below…

The above model suggests that in an organisation, the way the systems (technical and work systems) are designed, created and managed is governed by the way senior decision makers think about the business and the people in the business. So if the way we think creates the systems and the systems drive the behaviours, then wouldn’t it make sense to believe that to make improvements and get more desired results, then we have to change one or more of the systems. And to do that we have to think differently!

In fact, 95% of results are created by the organisational systems and only 5% by uncontrolled, maverick behaviours. I’m sure managers on a day to day basis don’t manage their time in that proportion!

So, from my experience working in major companies all over the world, the basic things to do to get better results and shift this current thinking are;

• Define the core systems in your business related to the business issue you are focused on

• Include the soft, unwritten systems that get forgotten. You may need to be slightly subjective, but that is better than not including them

• Involve a cross section of people at all levels to input into above. Use “Rich Picturing” techniques. Don’t be too technical or directional at this point

• Use Problem Solving techniques that are designed to enable you to analyse cultural systems effectively. These prevent linear, logical thinking and enable holistic thinking that questions the organisations paradigms and “group think” and ‘what ifs.’ Peter Checkland’s “soft systems methodology” is as good as any!

• Test/pilot possible work system changes in part of the business then roll out to other parts

• Train managers in the “Systems v Behaviours” concept and look at existing programmes of improvement to consider addressing the imbalance between merely trying to force change with “hard systems” methodologies and tools and techniques and implementing/adjusting the softer “people/work systems”

Martin Gummery, MD