Why we need to back up and think about the system
In the past couple of months I have found myself in the position of being an inconvenient customer – most recently around the small matter of arranging an MOT for my car. My local MOT centre leaflet-dropped me with a very reasonable offer to do the work, swiftly followed by my main dealer of choice – usually not a cheap option – offering to price match any other offers. This was temptingly convenient as a service is also due.
However, to get the price match I would need to visit them with proof of the offer before the car could be booked in. My flat no to this was met with ‘okay we’ll price match anyway’. The next hurdle though was they couldn’t fit me in before the date it had to be done by. They really wanted my business but only at their convenience. This whole price match thing hadn’t been thought through.
This encounter left me thinking about how often in the workplace good intentions founder and frustrate because we thought narrowly about what needed to be achieved rather than impacts on the wider system.
Examples abound, from the simple to the complex. Consider the urgent report we agree our team will take on because we know they will rise to the challenge. What we may not consider is the availability and capability of other people and parts of the organisation whose support and input we’ll need.
We might decide to fix a weekly team huddle for 8.15 every Monday – get the week off to a positive and energised start. It seems reasonable and everyone agreed but one usually highly reliable and punctual team member screeches in at the last minute every week clearly stressed and distracted. Turns out that personal circumstances mean the 8.15 start is a challenge…something the colleague didn’t feel they could mention and we didn’t think to clarify.
Then there are bigger things…developing people to take more of a leadership role – showing greater initiative around new ideas and problem solving and taking decisions more locally. What we may not have considered is whether our organisation’s systems, processes and cultural mind-set allow for these more empowered behaviours. If they don’t the enterprise will fail.
Changing ways of working in our home country is fine but what if we apply them across international offices and they’re counter to local cultures and end up disadvantaging or excluding colleagues in those territories.
And it may be with the best of intentions that we espouse a focus on reducing our carbon footprint and making a positive contribution to the planet’s future only to undermine the position by switching to a lower cost supplier of the main component that has to be flown in from the other side of the world.
Thinking about the system isn’t easy, for sure but if we really want to make a difference and make it stick we do need to think more broadly about the wider system in which we operate and the likely impacts of our actions – those we intend and those we don’t.