Home > Team work > Respect for people or improve the system?

Respect for people or improve the system?

Last Sunday (Sep 30) my local newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, published an article about well-being business. Specifically the article was about motivation and how the business of “motivational speakers” is increasing in Finland. Various celebrities travel around speaking about motivation, many companies organize funny or crazy get-togethers to improve well-being at work.

I felt confused after reading the article. As if motivation and well-being could be purchased and brought in by inviting a famous person to give a presentation.

No, you can’t buy happiness in a box.

As W. Edwards Deming said: “A bad system will beat a good person every time“. If the problems arise from system (as they almost always do), it does not help to bring in a motivational speakers, no matter if they are ice-hockey stars or certified circus clowns.

Some time ago I got a link to an interesting video (thanks @hemppah for the link). It is a panel discussion with extremely distinguished members, including John Seddon and Jeffrey Liker. I took an excerpt from the video, added Finnish subtitles and published in YouTube.

In the excerpt, John talks about interventions. He points out that solving “people issues” (for example motivation) can not be solved by intervening “people issues”. Reason is that “people issues”are caused by the surrounding system. Therefore more effective approach is to intervene the surrounding system and create environment where people can feel Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose (as Dan Pink describes in his book “Drive“).

(Full 50 min video of the panel discussion is available at http://vimeo.com/42297077)

Having said this, and having published Seddon’s video, there is some value in having motivational events or well-being days. I can think of three situations

1) Spending relaxed time together can give people experience of being together. Potentially this helps people also to work together, provided that system does not prevent collaboration

2) Highly competent speaker can bring new ideas or new perspective to work, provided that system allows experimenting with new thinking.

3) Seminar or a respected speaker is a way of rewarding. It can give a signal that company cares; company allows people spend some time away from burning work issues. Provided that the motivational events are arranged bona fide and without hidden agendas.

Note: I am working in consulting business. Part of my value is to motivate and inspire people and help them improve their work. By doing this work I see how impossible it is to improve work without changing the system. Respect for people is empty promise if it does not include understanding and improving the system.

Categories: Team work
  1. October 2, 2012 at 11:30

    How does recognizing that “all changes must be operated at the system level” help you do your work better? and perhaps recognize where your work is not welcome (even when paid)?

    • October 4, 2012 at 15:58

      HI Vasco, I’m not sure if I understood your question but I’ll reply anyway.

      Knowing that “all changes must be operated at the system level” would not help me much, if I have a problem at hand. That statement is a design principle, not a problem solving principle.

      The point I wanted to make is that poorly designed system remain bad no matter how much individuals try to do their best. Improving the system and designing system to its purpose is a minimum requirement for people to perform. Once adequate system is in place, motivational (or other) exercises can have effect.

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