Do your business systems support people success?
The team gathered for the routine monthly strategy meeting to prep for upcoming training. The agenda set, outcomes explained, and dates planned. The only problem was that the facilitators planning to work with the clients were unsure and confused. Inevitably, this cycle happened month after month leaving both the facilitation team and the training director frustrated.
The training director was convinced she needed to get rid of the current facilitation team and hire all new facilitators. She couldn’t figure out why this current team asked so many questions. They didn’t seem to be able to follow orders or grasp the intended outcomes.
She elevated the situation to her directors and proceeded to restructure the company by replacing the current facilitators with all newly hired facilitators. New responsibilities were given to the old team in a different part of the organization. They no longer had facilitation duties.
Problem solved…so it seemed.
The old facilitation team questioned this approach to conducting client trainings. Moreover, they were surprised to hear that they had been replaced.
Apparently, the director and the old facilitators were at odds with each other. While the director felt dissatisfied with the work of the former team, she didn’t quite understand the problem or apply the correct fix. She was convinced that if she changed the people, all would be well. Also, she believed her directives would be carried out more efficiently.
Every monthly meeting had similar challenges. Everyone met to prep for facilitating a client training. The director knew what she wanted to happen at the training. But, this telepathic approach was not giving the facilitation team the information they needed to deliver successfully. Often, important documents they were promised were “not uploaded yet” or missing. Additionally, the facilitation strategy changed mid-stream. As the facilitators pointed out the gaps in the training, the director became more defensive and critical. Presumptuously speaking, she just needed a new team with better people.
What’s going on here? If you asked the director, she would say it’s certainly the subpar facilitators. If you asked the facilitators, they would say it was the inadequate system they were forced to use to get what they needed for a successful training.
Stuck. Stalled. What word would you use to describe this?
What do you think?
Having adequate business systems in place that provide teams with all they need to execute successfully is important. However, when there is a breakdown with ineffectiveness, the chosen solution was to bring in a new team instead of reviewing the systems and asking the hard question of what about this is not working? Not only asking the hard question but being willing to listen to the answer and correct the problem.
I know this Director. I observed she is stuck in a cycle of insecurity and superiority thinking. She considers herself the expert on corporate learning and training, yet lacks the ability to communicate clearly, follow through on promised support documents needed for facilitator success and take constructive feedback. According to Mary Beth O’Neill, leading with “backbone and heart” is not just an expression, but a must. Furthermore, she doesn’t have the correct systems in place and is not willing to review the workflow to make sure all components are efficient, accurate and disseminated. That would take time away from her other dues. Instead, she blames the team and replaces them, which in the long run, also took a lot of time and pulled her away from her other responsibilities.
When a leader does not have the perceived capacity or willingness to honestly explore where the breakdowns are showing in the system, standoffs will happen.
What’s the solution?
An honest and strong-hearted look at the business systems. Not just from the point of view as the leader but in partnership with those assigned to work in those systems. They will give up honest and helpful feedback or feedforward as Executive Coach Marshall Goldsmith says. When you take the approach that you are looking forward to reviewing your systems, you come away with less blame and more useful information for improvement.
The Problem of Assumption
This leader made quite a few disruptive assumptions. A root cause review was missing. A root cause review would have told her that her system was not strong enough for the facilitators to follow easily without many clarifying questions and perceived resistance. They were not resisting her; they were resisting a system that set them up for failure or to miss the desired outcome. How ironic that the team wanted exactly what she wanted – a successful delivery of training.
There are times when the evidence after a root cause review will point to your people. More often it points to your business systems. People thrive in clear systems…and they fail or perform poorly in weak systems. Many to most professionals want to be effective and succeed to achieve their livelihood duties, fulfill a purpose and make the highest contribution possible to help others and do a great job. Providing a system for success is supportive and a win-win for everyone! A fabulous book to help guide you in solving the right problem with a coach approach for communication is Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, (by Marilee Adams).
When was the last time you looked closely at your systems?
What to Look for In a Business Systems Review
What is the flow of operation? Chart a path from start to finish of your business systems and make an action plan of any area where there is a slow down or lack of clarity. It’s important to follow through on actions when there is an area of concern. It will cost you trust from others if you announce updates or changes and fail to follow through. However, you will gain trust plus demonstrate relational and professional equity when you follow through.
I founded a small nonprofit called Promised Land Living. We became a NP 3 years ago and remain in the aggressive early start up phase of the ministry. Every month it seems we are building or refining systems to make things work well, ensure proper communication between systems and adequate communication of it all to our front-line ministry workers. Being a national as well as a virtual ministry, we rely almost exclusively on our systems for success.
To aid our success, we have a “process auditor” on our team. She is a volunteer who works at software analytics firm and has the most brilliant mind when it comes to processes. Each time we sense we have defined and designed the perfect process we will bring our process auditor in to “blow it up.” In our most recent process audit, she made 20+ revisions to a simple 7 step process. It was incredible. Each slight re-calibration of the process brought:
- greater clarity to the person who would be executing on the process the purpose of each step
- simplification of the process eliminating several unnecessary potential points of breakdown and
- increased efficiency, reducing the employees workload by 20%.
The 3 hours we spent with our process auditor will save us untold hours in confusion, miscommunication, breakdowns and most sobering, lackluster results.
We are inviting you to do this same work. The “process” is simple, but it takes discipline to not rush the audit of the process.
Pay attention to what you see. Be an objective observer of the systems, self, and others. It’s hard to look for efficiency if you feel that exploration might lead to you. To prepare, approach exploration from a non-attachment point of view. You’re not looking for a bad person, you are looking for possible faultiness in the systems. A breakdown that can hopefully be corrected or restructured.
What to Look for in a People Review
Anything missing for your people? Have you considered what they need for better or more efficient performance?
In many organizations, the top “people issues” based on team feedback, are the lack of proper training and support. Plus, the feeling disconnected from the values, mission, and focus of the work.
In the story of the director and the facilitators, the people part of the outcome resulted in the facilitators feeling disconnected and a bit apathetic to the work. Instead of equipping them for success, they felt overlooked and undervalued. This company runs the risk of low retention and continued poor training results when they try to fix a system problem with a people replacement. They brought new facilitators into a faulty system. Above all, the better approach is to find out what your people need to be successful by asking them rather, than assuming that you know.
One last thought on this.
Conducting an anonymous survey is one idea to empower your team with a safe environment for giving honest feedback. When possible, your people will appreciate anonymity when sharing their perspective to help improve a system or business. Certainly, the risk of facing ill-gotten consequences from giving direct feedback can be very real. As a leader, being open with a growth mindset and objective is key for receiving feedback, which can be invaluable.
Strong business systems are vitally important to the success of your company. Conducting the systems and people review will indicate your next area for growth. This is a good thing and can become a place of strength. Imagine what you might gain from fixing the right problem. You can build a company where the systems and your people are efficient.
Some say businesses exist for profitability.
The comprehensive truth is businesses exist for profitability, sustainability, and for building equity with your people to fulfill the mission and vision together. Companies that support people’s success and have user-friendly business systems in place, will far outlast the ups and downs of the economy or current business trends. You were built to outlast these uncertainties. As we often say at C3Advantage – take care of your people and the business will take care of itself. Part of taking care of your people is taking the time to implement systems that will support a job well done by the people who care most about yours and the business’s success.
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