This is an excerpt from the Third Edition of Work the System, and has much to do with Mole-Whacking. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, it’s an “arcade redemption game” that exactly describes how too many people live their lives. -sc
If you are like most people, you have not consciously considered the involvement of systems in your daily life. Therefore, you have not consciously thought in terms of adjusting them in order to eliminate problems from occurring in the first place. For most people, whacking emerging moles is how life is played out. There is no thought of burrowing deep into the mole hole for some serious mole extermination.
The little moles are cute-faced decoys that distract us from the critical moves we should be making. I’ll say it again: let’s burrow deep inside their tunnels and eradicate them all. And then, before we leave, let’s do what we have to do so no more moles show up later. After that, confident that moles will never distract us again, we’ll climb back above ground and start working the other processes of our lives that will take us where we want to go.
Here is a mechanical truth: one can compensate for the negative outcome of a recurring problem, but without repairing the errant process that caused it, the problem will undoubtedly occur again.
Few people understand the systems approach of successful leaders who intuitively grasp that a seemingly isolated problem is not isolated at all. These system improvement specialists see a problem as the result of a flaw in an errant system—an errant system that can be fixed. For these leaders (more often from the private sector than the public sector), a problem is not a disappointment just to be corrected and then written off. It’s a wake-up call. This means that once the immediate negative outcome is fixed, there is a second step. It is this second step that is key. The problem’s cause is traced to the errant subsystem which is then modified so the problem won’t happen again. This is how successful people negotiate their days!
So, through the astute leader’s observation, a problem in the primary system calls for a subsystem modification. The leader makes the permanent enhancement, causing the primary system to be incrementally more robust and reliable than before the problem occurred. Addressing the problem and then taking this second step to fix the cause of the problem distinguishes people who are in control from people who are not in control—the successful from the unsuccessful.
The improvement of a system is a system improvement, and the documentation of that improvement is a Working Procedure. The documentation of each revision is critical. Making an enhancement without it guarantees that the improved system will revert to an inefficient unpredictability borne of shortcuts, outdated but comfortable routines, the pressures of the day, and/or confusion infused by assorted personalities and talents. Precise documentation converts an organic process into a mechanical entity. It gives permanence. It has to happen.
Will the organization become a top-down dictatorship? No! That’s because the entire staff helps create the documentation and then it’s organizational protocol that, once the Working Procedure is implemented, anyone can suggest a refinement/improvement. Management’s promise is that any suggestions will be reviewed immediately…and if approved, will be instituted instantly.
Again, by focusing on repairing problems in this way, the primary system becomes ever more efficient and rough edges disappear. It’s a wondrous thing because as time passes by, the system-mechanism gets better and better.
Imagine a system that improves with time rather than wears out!
At the start, these one-by-one efforts can seem daunting. You work at them for a while and then ask, “When will all these problems cease, and when can I stop fixing and documenting?” But you carry on. After plugging along for a short while more, you notice the pace and quantity of incoming problems has decreased. You see the fire killings aren’t coming so fast . . . and this is the moment in time when a powerful belief takes hold. Now, with fervor, you accelerate the process so even fewer errors occur, and your organization and your personal life become ever more smooth and efficient.
Profits improve while organizational vitality increases. Now you’re managing your business and your life, working your systems. You’ll never go back!
Photo by h.koppdelaney via flickr used under a creative Commons License.