Systems do not fix broken processes & bad culture

It is quite common to see organisations jump on the new system bandwagon believing that the answer to all their problems lie in a shiny new computer system. Key organisational decision makers hear of all the cool things that modern integrated systems can provide them and think “if I had that system I would be able to make better decisions in a timelier manner”. Furthermore, as the generation Y’s increasingly climb the corporate ladder into these positions the expectation that anything can be improved with technology is further embedded in organisations. Can you blame them? The technology found within the handheld phones that we use now to message our friends, find the nearest restaurants, listen to music, access our emails and take pig nosed selfies while catching imaginary cartoon characters based on GPS locations have more power than the “super computers” of yester year that sent man to the moon. Information should be easily available, that’s the very essence of this “google generation.” I know because I am one of them. The truth is, that information is only as good as the source of it and if the process of collecting the data to produce your information is flawed, you are only getting useless information faster by implementing a new system.

Balancing Process – People – Systems is the key to Sustainable Growth. Part 1


Whilst this expectation of a better way of doing things using technology is not in itself flawed, the belief that putting in the best system ever will solve the issues of organisations instantly is flawed. This is because the organisations today are built on embedded ways of working, simply forcing people raised in these ritual ways of working to use a new system that is far removed from how they ever did anything before is a recipe for disaster.

This is where disciplines such as my own, change management, have grown from. The acknowledgement that you cannot just get someone to use a new system without getting their buy in. This sounds logical but the process itself is quite difficult because for many you are changing the fundamental way in which they think.

The best organisations are the ones that realise this and do not jump straight into a system implementation or even a system selection. Instead, they try to change the way people think within their organisations current constraints.

The natural progression of efficiency is logical it starts with doing what you need to do to get things done, this is typical for small businesses and those that act in a reactive fashion because resources and time are lacking. As these businesses grow they usually realise that their ad hoc ways of doing things are not good enough to sustain growth. This is when they begin looking at efficiencies through scale and begin looking to standardise their processes, then begins the journey of continual improvement. Assessing and reviewing processes to the point of systemisation and if possible automation. A balanced mixed of systemisation and automation is the end goal for most organisations. To remove any non-value add processes in order to produce the best quality goods or services in the least amount of time with minimal costs, “utopia.”

Organisations want this utopia, and in doing so many seem to skip the intermediate step. This can prove to be a mistake. This is because the automation of inefficient process activities throughout an entire organisation is pointless and near impossible or very time consuming if the entire organisation does not already operate in a standard way. Unfortunately, this is the environment that we find many organisations in, because they have managed to grow operations faster than they can sustain it, changing process reactively to take hold of opportunities for growth or to mitigate against threats or react to negative pressures. Many grow through aggressive acquisition but have not standardised their ways of working and not integrating the culture of the acquired entities. Implementing a new system to fix these issues is not the answer.

In fact, doing so may bring these issues even further to the forefront. Systems are a support mechanism for the processes in place at your organisation. If an organisation does not have strong standard agreed processes in the current, then expecting them to agree to a standard way by implementing a system to control them is pointless. It is much easier to progress people to a new system if it supports or enhances the standard processes they currently have in place. This is the importance of understanding current ways of working before selecting and implementing a system.

If there are non-standard processes in place, agree on how you would like the entire organisation to work in the future before you decide on a system to enforce this agreed process, rather than just purchasing a system to force compliance.

A successful System implementation relies on People, Process and Systems in balance.