Complex management systems are driven from fear not efficiency.

Before I decided to become a coach and skills developer I spent the early part of my career in the systems world. Not computers and software systems, but people and process systems. These are the structures that make up the formal and informal channels of tasks and people working together in every organisation.

Although I spent a lot of time looking at the systems themselves, I soon realised that the ‘people part’ was the critical difference between an efficient and effect system and one that is neither.

I am still a qualified systems auditor and my work invariably crosses over when I am coaching and training individuals who are frustrated with the perception that they cannot make positive changes in their workplace.

Every organisation operates under a system of some sorts, ranging from simple to sophisticated. As organisations grow, processes and paperwork invariably become more complex. If organisations aren’t careful their systems can end up looking like a shanty town, a labyrinthine of actions and information rather than nice neat housing estates well planned and functional.

Have you ever heard the phrase “this is the way we’ve always done it?”

People often feel comfortable with familiar tasks and change can be traumatic for them. New employees can be seen as trouble makers if they suggest new ways and challenge the status quo.

We don’t always feel like we can challenge the norm or make it our own.

One organisation I worked with had a complex and bureaucratic client on-boarding system. The team felt hampered because every small change had to be checked and rechecked at different levels of the organisation before being signed off by the Executive Director.

When I got to the crux of the matter it transpired that some time ago a team member accepted a client that did not meet the criteria submitting a request that was wrong and the company lost money. Rather than going the root cause, everyone, including potential clients were being punished by a long on-boarding cycle.

Here are some tips to making sure your system is a living, contributing part of your organisation.

  1. When you are small keep the systems as nimble and flexible as possible. Cut the paperwork to a minimum and communicate often. Empower your team to make decisions and multitask.

  2. As companies grow, business owners can often hold onto the reins well beyond practical means and this can stifle innovation and trust. Give people parameters to work within and the power to make decisions. If something goes wrong (and it will) use it a learning opportunity not an impunity opportunity.

  3. Education and knowledge is key. People need to know why they are doing a task in a particular way and the desired outcome. It enables employees to concentrate on the most important elements and allows them to innovate if there is a more efficient or effective method available. It also lets them make their own decisions about what’s important so customer satisfaction can be maximised.

  4. Build systems that are client friendly not just worker friendly. I get frustrated with organisations that make it hard for me to work with them. Three years ago some guy didn’t process the form right so now there are 15 checks and it takes three weeks for me to get my information. Remember why you are in business.

  5. A picture tells a thousand words. Long winded written policy and procedures are rarely read or used. Overly complex documents often lead to informal steps being added. If you can, use pictograms, flowcharts and videos to describe agreed methods and make them readily available.

Your system is a living thing. Let it change, adapt and serve you. Regularly review how you do things and try new methods constantly. Believe me, your team will love you for it.

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