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People problems are system problems — Five tips for identifying system issues (Proceedings)

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Apr 01, 2010

Managers often look to individuals when a problem occurs. When that doesn't work, or when problems repeat, a system problem could exist. In this session attendees will explore operations, facility design, and processes that can affect production and camaraderie at work. Case studies will provide examples of system problems for which attendees will create system solutions.

Five tips
1. Evaluate facility issues
2. Evaluate operations
3. Evaluate processes
4. Get input from the team
5. Provide consistent leadership

These are familiar scenarios for many veterinary teams
      --Bickering between two technicians
      --Front versus back syndrome
      --Front office "team" isn't a team
      --Some people just don't want to pitch in

Much workplace conflict is predictable. Workplace operations, facilities, and processes affect how people work together. Certain roles and positions carry inherent potential for conflict.

When a problem occurs, is it due to people, or systems? It's easy to notice individual behavior. It's harder to look for systems issues that might cause anyone to behave that way. Look beyond individual personalities and individual events. Look for patterns, recurrences, and trends.

"The failing of the talent myth is that people believe in stars because they don't believe in systems."-- Hidden Value / Harvard Business School Press

"Systems for managing people are the real sources of competitive advantage, even with 'average' employees." --Lessons from the Financal Services Crisis / SHRM

Systems that affect people include
      --Facility design
      --Operations: What we do; policies & procedures
      --Process: How we do what we do; prioritization & organization

While many (perhaps most) issues are affected by more than one system, it helps to view systems separately to evaluate what you can or want to change.

1. Evaluate facility issues

Signs of facility issues include "Front staff vs back staff" conflict, or people running into each other and bickering in a too-small facility. Your practice can evaluate the facility, brainstorming ways you can minimize the effects of the facility on team harmony. For example, evaluate work flow patterns; create cross-facility (front/back) working teams; laugh about the small space; and blame the facility, not each other!

2. Evaluate operational issues

Signs of operational issues include "Tech vs. tech," with one saying, "I'm doing all the work!" Another sign is "Doctor vs. doctor," with one saying, "He gets all the good cases!"

Examples of methods of overcoming operational issues include refining job descriptions; creating task lists; providing teachable moments and performance reviews; revising reward systems; and revising scheduling methods.