A Finance Manager, Ops Manager and an HR Manager walk into a bar. They fight over whose round it is. End of joke.

The Finance Manager had noticed that the Ops Manager and HR Manager always ask for more money than they need. They also noticed that every year they spend all of the money they asked for whether they needed to or not. If only those people would change their behaviour, stop working in silos and be more accountable.

The Ops Manager had noticed that the Finance Manager and HR Manager want to put controls in place for everyone to keep everything stable. They also noticed that changing the amount or placement of people is their colleagues favoured way to try and improve performance. And as for trying to predict how much time and money is required – we better ask for more than we need and build in some extra for safety. If only those people would change their behaviour, stop trying to control what is uncontrollable and let us do our work.

The HR Manager had noticed that the Ops Manager and the Finance Manager want to have people ‘on the tools’ all the time. They also noticed that despite their desire for continuous improvement there is little time and money spent on the growth of the people doing the work. If only those people would change their behaviour, stop for a moment to focus on developing their people and think about the culture.

If only those people would change!

The thing is people respond to the environment they are in. They respond to the operating system they are part of.

The most common operating system today was actually designed in the industrial age when things moved much slower. That is when silos worked. That is when controls and restructuring worked. That is when people were expected to do the same thing day in and day out and work like machines. That is when that operating system worked.

That operating system is very ingrained in us.

That operating system sets us up to fight with each other.

That operating system is old and tired (well at least the people in it are feeling that way).

That operating system doesn’t work in a fast-changing world.

It’s not the peoples’ fault. It is the operating system they are part of.

We could stop blaming the workers. We could stop blaming the managers. We could even stop blaming leadership. You can try to change the people in the system but without changing the operating system that people are trying to survive in most will stay just as they are.

Let me repeat. It’s not the peoples’ fault. It is the operating system they are part of.

We could stop using an operating system that wastes money, causes people to resist change and causes people to spend most of their time trying to protect themselves.

It has worked for Buurtzorg, GE, Kaiser Permanente, Utah GOMB, General Motors and many, many others throughout the world.  It was working in Southwest Airlines and Deutsche Bank until they slipped back into the old operating system (these are cautionary tales).

A Finance Manager, Ops Manager and an HR Manager walk into a bar. They set up a joint tab, invited the workers and their representatives to join in and focused on how to have a great time with all the people in the bar. It has the makings of a great party.

For the CEO’s reading this, some sage advice from another CEO about leading the change:

“The thing for me is recognising that, as a business leader, you have a responsibility to lead a company for the future, leaving it in a better place in five, 10, 15, or 20 years’ time. My job is to make sure that commercials are strong, the customer experience is great, the culture of the organisation is constantly improving.”

– Christopher Luxon, CEO, Air NZ

My name is Karl Perry. I help organisations implement a High Performance through Engagement Strategy to make a transition from an old operating system designed around efficiency to an operating system designed around adaptability. This is the key to sustainable high performance.

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