Axiom: Every system is perfectly designed to generate the results you’re getting. If you want different results, you must change the system.
Your organization system is the aggregate of
- People – skills, experiences, relationships, memories
- Documentation and support resources
- Assets – funds, facilities, services, inventory
- Mindsets and worldviews
- Historic decisions and principles
- Operating culture – what are default behaviors?
Your organization is not a machine – it’s more like a biological ecosystem. There are many interaction points and feedback loops. There are subtle cross-connects; there’s a lag time between cause and effect. Car engines are complicated – many parts, fully defined interactions. Organizations and ecological systems are complex – you may not even know all the operating parts, and you certainly can’t quantify the primary and secondary interactions.
The fastest way to change an organization is to change the people – which is why I listed them first. But beware the reality that organizations have momentum, so many practices and processes carry forward seemingly on auto-pilot. Even the strongest individual performers may fail to shift an organization because the current system has resilience. We sometimes say that organizations have an “immune” system to identify and destroy potentially hazardous ideas.
The biggest reason change efforts fail to meet expectations is because the leaders underestimated how much the overall system resists change. Therefore, leaders must begin by seeing their organization in system terms. I used to think that a few key individuals could overcome any organization weakness. No more. I’ve seen many cases where top-notch performers were overwhelmed by a resilient system, even when everyone agrees that the system must be changed.
There are many avenues to successful organization change; all of them require leaders humble enough to think and act in terms of systems.