It’s not a Behavioural Problem: it’s the System

William Edwards Deming offered 14 key principles for management for transforming business  effectiveness. He also has the following 95/5 rule:

“95% of the performance of an organization is attributable to the system (processes, technology, work design, regulations, etc.) and 5% is attributable to the individual.”

This is a powerful way to show what is the impact of work design: When things go wrong, it is because the system. The point of intervention is system, not individuals. A variation on this is the view that if you put a competent, motivated person in a lousy system, the lousy system will win every time.

We can’t blame individuals for doing what the system expects them to do. If an individual is failing to perform to expectations, it’s more likely to be the “system” that’s at fault, than the individual.  For example, if you want people to behave in a way that generates creative and innovative solutions, you have to create the environment (read “system”) in which that type of behaviour can flourish.

Summing-up: People issues are not the point of intervention. System is the point of intervention. By improving the system, we improve not only results but also motivation and well-being at the work.

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