Systems and Processes – Know the Difference
The goal of this article is to help your company have customer driven, seamless, powerful processes that bedazzle and loyalize your clients.
We also need to make sure that in the macro sense, your company has a system that rewards and measures the right things in order to ensure that you are providing the kind of service excellence you are wanting and needing for and with your clients.
Throughout we will therefore use two important terms that are often misunderstood in business; systems and processes.
It is quite important for a leader to distinguish between the two and the fact that they serve two very different purposes in your company.
“What is the goal or purpose of your company”?
The Difference between a “Process” and a “System”
A process (as opposed to a system) is an organized group of interrelated tasks that people interact on together in order to exceed customer expectations.
In other words, the ways, methods and means the organization uses to achieve the goal for it was created.
Key Concept: The key component in any system is our (the managers) role in it
To manage or change a system, alter your thinking about it and your behaviour in it and the system naturally and automatically changes.
Because systems are living, breathing interconnected entities, if there is something you cannot change, change the part you can and the “unchangeable” part will change as well!
Making our way Through the Labyrinth
“Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
In every domain, human beings tend to gravitate toward simplification and specialization.
As comforting a simplification can be however, it impairs every step of the Facilitative Thinking process.
Truly creative solutions are born in and arise from complexity.
Specialists aren’t optimally suited to solve the biggest problems businesses face, because as Drucker has pointed out, “there are no finance decisions, tax decisions, or marketing decisions; only business decisions.”
Functional specialization especially undermines holistic thinking, keeping in mind the whole while working on the individual parts.
It encourages the sequential or parallel resolution of discrete parts of a business problem.
In other words, what is optimal from the perspective of one function will take precedence over what is optimal for the firm as a whole.
The Old we’ve Done Our Job So Now Let’s “Just Throw it over the Wall” Mentality
From R & D to manufacturing, which in turn throws it over the wall to marketing, and then to sales, and so on.
Each subsequent function is saddled with the narrowly provincial decisions of the previous functions in the chain.
Of course, when the world is cut into little pieces it is easier to deal with.
Once you start integrating things, you end up with a much more complex problem than you had before.
It’s harder to work with and thus we tend to not do it.
Chaos and/or Complexity
Trying to solve the complexities and complications of life and its myriad problems is like gaping at a homemade contraption that has mysteriously evolved into something even its designers can no longer fathom, let alone operate and dismantle.
Is there an owner’s manual for this thing?
Can it be unplugged?
If we figure out where it’s getting fuel, can we starve it and hope it expires?
In trying to simplify our lives and master our use of time it is important to note that there is more complexity than most minds care to handle.
So simplification and specialization can quickly come to look like the only refuge from chaos.
What is Complicated and What is Complex?
A very big part in trying to reduce the complications and complexities of life, its myriad problems, to bite sized chunks, is to understand the difference between what is complicated and what is complex.
So often, what starts out as simple and well intended becomes a disaster.
One has to only look back at the insidious and ludicrous exploitation of the U.S. tax payer and economy by A.I.G., an insurance firm, whose supposed expertise is assessing risk, seeking and getting an $85 billion government loan to remain solvent.
Complexity doesn’t have to be Overwhelming
If we can master our initial panic reaction and look for patterns, connections, and causal relationships.
Our capacity to handle complexity is greater than we give ourselves credit for.
Multidisciplinary teams (Basketball) can be especially helpful in this regard.
They can help you break free from conventional notions of what was salient and deepen your understanding of causal relationships among each element of the process.
In such an environment, a creative resolution isn’t assured, but the odds of success are dramatically improved.
The Key is to Know that Processes are Complicated and Systems are Complex
Note the difference between the two and how each is managed differently in the examples below.
Two Examples of as Process
Sending a Rocket to the Moon is a Complicated Process
It is a complicated process that requires blueprints, math and a lot of carefully calibrated hardware and expertly written software.
Performing Hip Replacement Surgery is a Complicated Process
It takes a coordinated team of well-trained personnel, good team skills, precision and carefully calibrated equipment.
Processes are complicated (situations) and as such require skill(s) that enable you to work well with people and work through the process.
The Key to Managing a Situation or Process is Skill
For instance, you can teach interns the best practices of doctors who are really good at hip replacement surgery.
In or for an Effective Process, People (The Team) need to be two Things
Complicated situations and processes need skills which help people are:
- Organized (do good)
- Together (feel good)
Like two intertwining strands of a rope; the better you do, the better you feel; the better you feel, the better you do and so forth.
Two Examples of a System
Running a Health Care System is Complex
It’s filled with thousands of parts and players, all of whom must act within a fluid, unpredictable environment.
It is an enormous challenge, but math and blueprints won’t help.
Raising a Child is Complex
It also is an enormous challenge, but math and blueprints won’t help.
To run a system that is complex, it’s not enough to get the right people and the ideal equipment.
The two, a system and a process are governed by completely different principles.
The Key to Managing a System: Principles
To run a system that is complex, it’s not enough to get the right people and the ideal equipment.
It takes a few simple principles to guide and shape the system.
For Instance the Health Care System
- Is it available and accessible to everyone?
- Is it efficient?
The same is true for the Economy
Those complicated financial instruments that helped bludgeon the U.S. economy should have been subjected to one or two elemental questions:
- Is this good for consumers?
- What are the risks involved?
Three Observations about Systems
- They creep up on you
- They defeat good intentions
- It is the cumulative impact that does us in
Complexity Creeps Up On You
Complexity is like the pet that grew fangs and started eating the furniture.
It creeps up on you.
It grows in ways, each of which seems reasonable at the time (the bank’s reaction to the recession, Afghanistan etc.).
It starts in ways which seems reasonable at the time:
- To go into Iraq
- To take that few days off
- To buy that new car.
Complexity, the inherent by-product of a System has a way of Defeating Good Intentions
As we clean up these messes, there is no point in hoping for a new age of simplicity.
The best we can do is ground ourselves on the one or two principles we need to guide and shape the system that is our system within the larger system.
It is the Cumulative Impact that does us in
Most of what we do seems like a reasonable response to the situation in which we find ourselves.
It is the cumulative impact that does us in.
Of course, nobody, not you, not I, not the people at Goldman Sachs or any other large financial institution meant to wreck the economy.
The United States military didn’t invade Iraq or Afghanistan thinking that one day its efforts would be bewildering and beyond resolution whichever way its leaders might go.
So the next time you begin to feel confused and things seem to be going awry, then remind yourself of the following principle.
If there is something going on (in your system, situation or life) that you cannot change, change the thing that you can and it will change the thing you could not change.
By the way, the thing you can always change is:
1. Language (this is our most powerful tool)
2. How we use our time.
Two Key Questions:
1. If it is a complicated process, what do I need to know and do better?
For our company situation, what skills do we need to (to improve) to better manage our daily routine?
2. If it is a complex, systemic issue, what are the two or three simple principles, such as “no customer complaints, ever”, we need to establish and follow to govern, guide and shape our system (the one within the larger system) in order to better manage my daily routine?
Asking yourself consistently these two questions will help.
Lastly, what has all this talk about the difference between a process and a system to do with customer service?
To provide world-class service, you need a complex system driven by one or two guiding principles such as:
1. Everything we do will help our clients not get what they want but we always help them think about what they really think; figure out what they want that they didn’t even know they wanted, before we came on the scene.
2. We will give them every reason possible to see us not as a vendor but a trusted partner and adviser.
Our service process, the intricate interdependent rather complicated interactions among the various departments, will attend to every detail in that chain such that we and the process itself, are as one.
For more on this topic, we recommend the following
Customerizing your Service Process
How to Loyalize Customers and
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