230 – A way to show performance is determined by the system.

600 words (3 minutes reading time)                                                         Colin Weatherby

95 - 5 Vanguard

Source: Vanguard video ‘Tactics for helping people learn about the 95:5 principle, Part 1′

There have been several posts about performance appraisal and the ineffectiveness of systems designed to improve the performance of individuals. This posts picks up on the key theme of those posts – i.e. a person is not totally responsible for their performance in a system of work and managers need skills in understanding and improving the system.

This has been a compelling idea in my thinking and my work. Despite the many criticisms and problems encountered with people and their work in local government, I have met very few people who come to work to do a bad job. Many years of watching people work and talking to them about their work had led me to conclude that it was the way they were asked to do the work and the tools they were given that created most of the problems. I just didn’t know how to describe it.

Then I read Peter Scholtes’ book ‘The Leaders Handbook: making things happen, getting things done’, and his quote from Edwards W. Deming struck a chord with me:

“The fact is that the system that people work in and the interaction with people may account for 90 or 95 percent of performance.”

This book reinforced that I was on the right track. It wasn’t until I recently subscribed to Vanguard and accessed some of the materials available for 10 weeks to new subscribers that I found a simple way to illustrate that performance is mostly determined by the system of work. As I am writing this, it still seems odd to me that there is a need to prove something that is so self-evident.

In two short videos the Vanguard team describe a simple and effective way to show people how a system affects performance. They use the example of a washing machine repairer (an engineer) being called to fix a washing machine at a home.

They start by asking what the purpose is in the home owner calling the repairer. In this case, ‘fix the washing machine’.

Then they describe the system – ‘home owner calls repair company, talks to call centre staff and describes the problem, the call centre then makes an appointment for the repairer to visit, they order replacement parts based on the problem described to them, the parts are sent to the repairer, the repairer comes to the home’. It could be different process but this covers a simple system.

However, the repairer isn’t able to make the repair as scheduled. You are asked to write down the reasons that might happen. I have taken the liberty of taking a screen shot from the video (the image above) where some of those reasons are listed. In this image, they have gone a step further and coded each reason with the cause – the circled ‘s’ is a system reason. There will be a circled ‘e’ for engineer reasons, and there will be some reasons that are shared between the system and the engineer.

The numbers of reasons attributable fully or partially to the system prove Deming’s point. Most reasons will be to do with the system. I am keen to try it for other situations relevant to my work.

The most interesting part of the video comes at the end when the narrator says that if you are the manager responsible for the repairer, and you think you need to act on the people, you will sit down at this point with the repairer and talk to them about their performance. Perhaps a new objective about trying harder will end up in their performance plan. I can imagine that discussion – I have been part of them.

Alternatively, if the manager thinks they need to act on the system they will start to spend time in the work to look for the barriers to the repairer achieving the purpose. And they will help them to overcome those barriers.