Understand how systems can make a huge difference to what you lead

Systems are imperative to organisational health. A system is a series of steps that enables the accomplishment of a task.

We all use systems everyday from what we do between getting up and going out, to how we should drive on the road, to how we perform tasks at work.

The more efficient a system, the more time and energy is saved, which can then be invested in other important things.

A good system requires the minimum amount of time and energy for achievement of maximum gain. Thus, systems need constant evaluation, management and development to ensure efficient fulfilment of the goal.

Every task has a requirement of what steps are essential for its completion. Although these steps are not always known, they are still required.

For example, a person might be using ten different steps to achieve an outcome. Not realising that the third step, could be different from what it is, and by implementing a different step, the following 6 steps are not required.

An important aspect of Leadership is about developing efficient systems, which allow people to perform at their best, while expending as little energy and time as possible.

How do you understand how a system works and how to increase its efficiency?

First, establish an initial set of steps to take you from where you are to task completion.

Second, interrogate these steps to make sure they fit together well. Ensure all steps are fluid and sequential.

Third, use your system and make sure you arrive at the result you want. Implementing further things in your system that you might discover along the way.

Fourth is where the fun starts. You now have a baseline upon which to improve your efficiency.

The more complex and significant a system is the more opportunity there is to increase its efficiency.

For example, a task may require a reporting mechanism at several points of its development. Requiring the person performing the task to report at several different times and stages of the process, until the task is complete. This means there is an opportunity to address the submission of reports, to whom reports are submitted, why they are and how this might increase in simplification.

In doing so the system becomes more efficient when the task doers finds it simple to meet their requirements. Not when they increase in demand and complexity.

Some systems require a person to move to a different area or department and wait on another system, and then becoming free to return to their department to continue with their system. This can be cumbersome, frustrating and inefficient. Is there a more efficient way this might happen? Does the person really need to move? Can others come to them? Can the system exist separate from other systems that might delay it?

If a task requires permission from another to move ahead, can permission be given up front with a number of parameters, instead of constantly throughout the process? Can a monitoring system be implemented in the current system to allow a flow of permission providing all checks are balanced? Can a checklist of expectations be developed, which is checked at different stages of a systems execution?

A system needs to be people friendly, if it’s to bring out their best. It needs to match the way a person working in the system thinks, while stretching them to think more efficiently and behave more effectively. When a system does this, it becomes intuitive.

Every step of a system requires interrogation with the aim of increasing simplicity and fluidness. The more simple and fluid a system is the more efficient it will be. If a person can intuitively navigate a system, fulfilling all of its requirements and be free from unnecessary bureaucracy, it’s a healthy sign.

If you have implemented the above information your system should be simple, fluid and intuitive. If this is the case there remains one final threat to its efficiency: people.

Systems break down and become dysfunctional when people don’t engage with them.

One of the greatest frustrations that can plague a leader is when an  implemented system is not followed by those it is there to serve.

People disengage with systems under a number of conditions:

They feel they know better and behave outside the systems requirements.

They don’t understand how the system is necessary for the health of the organisation.

They are lazy or forgetful, and don’t implement important and required steps.

They don’t grasp the importance of the task, which the system facilitates.

Effective systems don’t break down because the steps don’t work, but because people don’t follow the steps.

Leaders need to take their time training and familiarising their people with the systems that are there to serve them and the organisation. Failure to do this will result in frustration.

Success in doing this will enable efficiency for the organisation, health for those working within it and the opportunity for valuable feedback from fresh eyes.

A person needs the opportunity to share with their leader how a system can be improved. These ideas need to be explored and either implemented or explained why the present way is more efficient. If done well this process can often make systems run more efficiently as a person new to the system can often give valuable perspective, which those too close to the system lack.

As a systems ages it also runs the risk of becoming out-dated. Out-dated systems fail to provide the results required. Most systems become out-dated without anyone realising it, which is why constant evaluation of a system is required. If someone asks the question” ‘Why are we doing it like this?” and the response given is “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it”, then system overhaul is required immediately.

The longer a system exists without assessment and improvement the harder it is to change. People become more attached to the system than to what the system produces. This often results in a system which fails to produce what it was originally intended to. Instead, people’s valuable time, energy and passion are worthlessly expended.

A system is a tool for efficiently achieving tasks that move an organisation forward. When a system is not efficient, then leaders will not see those they are leading performing at their best. In part due to what the system restricts in them, and in part due to their frustration and reaction to working in an ineffective system.

Start to think about the systems you have and the systems that have been implemented for you.

These questions will help you understand and develop your systems:

How do things get done in your organisation?

Are your systems known and understood by the people working in them?

Are your systems efficient? Could they be more efficient and how?

Are they providing you and others what they need to provide or are they taking too much from you?

Do your people understand what the system requires of them and what they need to do to maximise the system’s efficiency?

Are your people trained to think systematically?

I hope this has helped you wrap your mind around how systems work, what improvements you can make and what components make a great system.

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