As humans we want to simplify things – to make them more manageable and more predictable. As human we are destined to make the mistake of over simplification. As busy managers the same applies.
Growing a business is complex, winning orders/business is complex. Indeed, you could argue that it is every bit as complex as physics or chemistry, only more unpredictable because there are fewer scientific laws and the results depend on the people involved (your customers, your sales and marketing people, your supply chain team, and your competitor’s people too).
One of the implications is that growing a business cannot be reduced to one or two factors. But that does not stop managers and team leaders simplifying things every day. Growth initiatives, a marketing campaign or new sales drive all have potential and complexity underpinning them. The warning is that as managers (and indeed as humans generally) the way we are thought to think about things can be flawed. Seeing things in a simplified linear fashion and speedily jumping to conclusions as a result can limit growth.
If we assume that A caused B (for example A being a change in pricing and B being a short-fall against target), but overlook all of the other possible factors (from the positioning of the product to the price negotiations skills of the sales team, to the delivery to the customer) then our solution is likely to be inadequate. It is likely to be a quick fix at best.
In sales & marketing for example, the magic bullet often has somebody’s name on it. This goes at least some way towards explaining the rate of turnover among salespeople and indeed sales & marketing managers.
While as humans we link performance to people, in most cases it is too simple. Seeing people as the problem (or the magic solution) is symptomatic of a lack of systems thinking. This is evident when you hear organizations laying success at the feet of some (internal heroes) and failure at the door of others (internal villains).
There is a people-related dimension to most problems, but the systems perspective tells us that we must ‘look beyond individual mistakes or bad luck to understand important problems’ (Senge 1990). In commercial functions in particular there are often too many heroes and villains.
Systems thinking reminds us that when placed in the same system or structure, people, however different, tend to produce similar results. That means blaming people is only taking the easy way out.
If you hear ‘who did what to whom’ explanations, or if people are talking about problems as if they are just events, pay attention. What is blinding them to the underlying patterns of behavior and their causes?
Blaming somebody can reflect poorly on the accuser. That is because systems thinking tells us that ‘there is no separate “other”; that the accuser and the accusee are ‘part of a single system’. That is to say we are all participants – all contributors – all responsible for the system and the behaviors that it results in.
However with that responsibility (of being part of the system), also comes empowerment. Responsibility entails a shift of mindset from ‘seeing people as helpless reactors to seeing them as active participants in shaping their reality, from reacting to the present to creating the future’. If offers the prospect of not just working in the system, but working on it too.
Systems thinking poses a particular challenge to maverick managers and siloed functions. It reminds us that ultimate maturity is not the achieving of independence from others, but rather embracing inter-dependence and collaborating effectively with others.
If parts of the organization (‘the system’) don’t work well together – they don’t communicate well, they withhold information from each other, and effectively compete rather than collaborate – then organizational maturity is some way off. The importance of cross functional collaboration among all functions in working towards shared growth related objectives is absolutely critical.
Going beyond the obvious solutions and the quick fix is ‘utterly challenging’ for any manager. Most especially for a manager under pressure to meet this quarter’s target. But the consequences of not adopting a systems approach are profound.
The absence of a ‘systems-thinking’ mindset can help to explain a lot of organizational under-performance and indeed dysfunction. The Growth Strategy PitStop® takes system thinking into all PitStops.