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Do We Have a Systems Problem or a People Problem?

Do We Have a Systems Problem or a People Problem?
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When something goes awry in your organization, what is your first response? In this excerpt from The Shift from Me to Team, which will be published this year, we share demonstrating caring and vulnerability by first assessing if systems are inhibiting performance may be the best move.

MY REQUEST OF YOU: We would appreciate your feedback. Please share what you like and what could be improved. #leadership #team #PeakPerformance #CoreIdentity #team #teamdevelopment #ShiftFromMeToTeam


As described in previous posts, we help client organizations identify Peak Performance standards for their team member performance assessment. It’s human nature to desire continuous improvement, and team members need to know where they are versus the Peak Performance standards. That said, management may inadvertently design a system for success that sets many team members up for failure. There are gifted and talented individuals who may be able to succeed with intricate systems, but finding those people may set us up for a bigger problem.

Assess Operating Systems First

Often, we blame team members for poor performance when a deeper investigation reveals systems, rather than people, are not aligned with the Core Identity. This is not caring, fair, or sustainable. Aligning operational systems to the Core Identity is the first step in improving team member morale and effectiveness. This demonstrates leadership’s openness to learning and adjusting and their commitment to setting the team member up for success.

Case studies of two national organizations exemplify systems inhibiting team members from being as productive as possible. Alan Mullaly took Ford Motor Company from bankruptcy to profitability with the same leadership team. He created a favorable outcome by changing how Ford operated, not by replacing team members. Likewise, the leaders of Pixar, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, transformed Disney’s unsuccessful movie production company without changing the team. When assessing people problems, it is vital to first ask, do we have a systems problem inhibiting our team members from succeeding? If we remedy it, might team members succeed more easily?

System Failure: Impossible Goal

For one client, the most significant stressor on team members was meeting month-end production goals. They pulled forward next month’s sales to meet this month’s goals. The result was an intense production effort the last days of each month, and employees often had to work Saturdays and Sundays. This caused challenges at home, and the stress carried over to the plant. The short-term adrenaline rush, sacrifice, and success in accomplishment had become addictive. The team spent the first week of the following month patting each other on the back and recovering from the exceptional effort. The lack of production in the first week created a cycle that repeated month after month. It became clear that the adrenaline rush and pats on the back for achieving the impossible goal were profoundly satisfying and ingrained in the company’s culture. The employees hated the stress and what it did to their family life, but they did not change their habits. They were addicted to the rush.

System Failure: Ineffective Inventory Tracking

We had a client who could not track their inventory accurately, so they took out a significant loan to ensure they did not run short. The team members responsible for the inventory were constantly challenged and frustrated, not knowing where they could find inventory to send to customers in need. Their antiquated inventory system inhibited them from being efficient and cost them financially and emotionally. They invested in a new inventory system that reduced their financial commitment while ensuring they had inventory when and where they needed it.


Be sure to study the systems in which you are asking underperforming team members to succeed—is it possible these systems make success difficult or impossible? This analysis demonstrates the caring and respect all team members seek and will result in dedicated and engaged team members for future success.