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If we want to change we need to change the system

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If we want to change we need to change the system

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According to Deming, 94% of the root causes of all problems can be found and attributed to the system, and only 6% to the individuals. This means that when a problem occurs, we should start examining it with the assumption that the system is broken. Most times we will be right. When we repeatedly make the wrong decisions or face rework or duplicate due to lack of communication, the root cause is likely to be found in the communication system, and ultimately in the communication culture.

Moreover, Deming said that the system is the responsibility of management. The system, as Deming defines it, is "a network of interdependent components that work together to accomplish the aim of the system.” (Wikipedia)

A lot of us are frustrated at work because we have gotten used to new ways of communicating in our private lives, but we cannot adopt the same behaviors at work. The first barrier we are confronted with is usually the lack of tools and platforms. How can we possibly share what we are doing or the ideas we have in an open and transparent way if we don’t have blogs or micro-blogs? Email and file shares simply won't do it. How can we make our knowledge more accessible and aggregate our collective knowledge if we don’t have wikis? It's not for anyone to edit and contribute on the intranet.

Then, if and when we get access to social tools and platforms, we soon realize there is a second and much bigger barrier to overcome: our existing communication culture. It is much easier said than done to change the norms that tell us how, what, and with whom we should communicate.

Even with the new tool in place, most people will cling on to their existing behaviors and practices. An existing behavior that has been automated and turned into a habit always requires a lot of effort to change, even if the new behavior will make things simpler for us. People often stick to inefficient behaviors simply because they have automated them - they do them on autopilot. If the system doesn’t force or encourage them to change their habits, then why should they?

A norm – a behavior we share with other people and that is expected of us to – requires even more effort to change than changing an individual habit. A few individuals alone cannot change it: there need to be a critical mass of people who make the effort to change their behaviors.

To change the communication culture, it is not enough to change the tools. We need to change the system. All relevant components that make up the system must all be changed to support the change we want: goals and measures, leadership and management practices, processes and routines, incentive systems, policies and rules, IT systems. And as management is responsible for the system, the system cannot be changed without management committing itself to make the change, setting a clear vision and roadmap, and changing behaviors themselves.


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