Good People Make Better Systems
Chris Bailey wrote a nice post a few days ago about systems versus people. He quotes two of my favorite authors, Pfeffer and Sutton, who argue that systems will trump individual effort, so before you fire that bad person, try redesigning systems or jobs.
Steve Roesler then chimes in with a question: if that’s true, then should we give up on hiring the best and the brightest and just hire adequate people to run our good systems?
My answer: you don’t make a good system out of adequate people. In my interpretation, the systems we’re talking about are human systems, so who you have as the humans is terribly important. I agree that you can’t overcome poor system design with your talent, at least not in the long term. But on the other side, your talent plays directly into the system’s functioning and, more importantly, its design and continuous redesign.
The one quote that Chris shared suggests we "try redesigning systems and jobs" before firing someone. I agree, but remember, that’s not the boss redesigning systems on high like the Architect in the Matrix. Systems are ultimately redesigned by the whole system itself. Certainly the top of the org chart has a specific role to play in redesign that is different from other players (and may have more authority on many decisions), but if you don’t see how the individual parts play a role in redesigning their own system, then I think you are missing a big piece of how systems work (or at least how they work well).
That is why you will need the best and the brightest—because they will be just as responsible for creating the best systems as you will be.