Work the System

Recently my husband and I implemented a new system for managing our correspondence at home.  With both of us working full-time jobs, each of us running personal small businesses and a non-profit, plus plenty of extra-curricular activities… well, let’s just say our home administration was out. of. control!

We had out grown our old methods of operation as a family and it was time to implement some new systems.  So off I went to find some new organization tools to keep us sane.  With a few new inboxes and a redefined process, we were good to go.

That was until we didn’t use the new system.

After about a week of the new system, we had reverted to our old ways, and our new system that was supposed to revolutionize our communication was useless.

The system won’t work if you don’t work the system.

What we quickly discovered was that the system wasn’t actually broken, we just hadn’t disciplined ourselves to it.

I see this happen all the time in organizations.

  • The organization outgrows existing systems.
  • Staff feel the strain and frustration of old systems.
  • Leadership create new systems.
  • Everyone embraces the new systems… for a time.
  • But slowly you drift back to old habits, and elements of the new system are forgotten.

Usually it’s at this point that we blame the system.  We assume that the system was bad and we abandon it.

But I believe that more often than system failure, it’s user failure.

As humans, we are creatures of habit and it takes tremendous effort and energy to break old habits and build new ones.

This is where leadership becomes critical.

Leaders are habit-breakers and habit-creators.

If the leader is not reinforcing the new system constantly, it’s destined to fail.  Someone has to own the system and be committed to seeing it implemented.  Leaders have to work the system and they have to remind and inspire the team to do the same.

Are you experiencing system failure somewhere in your organization?  What can you do to better work the system?


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  • Bethany Planton May 13, 2011  

    This post is definitely giving me something to ponder and think over. Thank you for your thoughts and experiences!