Authors and Consultants | GP Strategies Corporation

bad systems

Good People and Bad Systems

4690414066_4ed8878fd7We believe that people want to do a great job. That is, they work hard, they try to achieve the goals they feel they should, and they want their organization to succeed. The best anecdotal evidence for that belief comes from watching a new employee. He is prepared to take on the world. He’s excited. He’s enthusiastic. He is going to singlehandedly take on the competition and conquer the marketplace. Now if we can just point that enthusiasm in the right direction. If we can aim him at the right target, just think of what he can accomplish with all that energy.

But what happens over time? As author Geary Rummler said, “When you put a good person up against a bad system, the bad system wins almost every time” (Improving Performance, How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart, Rummler & Brache)  By system, Rummler meant all the work processes that make up a complex organization. The organization throws up one barrier after another and almost seems to want that new person to fail. Is it any wonder that disillusionment is a common feeling among frontline employees?

In the spirit of keeping this post focused on practical application, it’s important to clarify what—or, more specifically, whom—we are referring to when we say “organization.” It’s you—and every other person who has a leadership or supervisory role. As a leader, you are responsible for either erecting or eliminating barriers that stand between your frontline performers and success. The good news is that, with some focused effort, it’s easy to eliminate those barriers.

In future posts, we’ll examine some of the most common barriers we’ve seen erected in organizations and how to identify and eliminate them. Those common barriers can be grouped into categories:

  • Hiding the target
  • Lack of Relevance
  • Misalignment


Questions to consider

  • How do you think your organization is doing with regards to eliminating barriers that discourage people?
  • Are your work systems helping or hurting people over time?



photo credit: Businesspeople Head for Lunch – Casablanca, Morocco via photopin (license)

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