Change the System to Change the Results

Rick Kraft

Insanity has been defined as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” This quote has been attributed to several famous people, including Albert Einstein and Ben Franklin.

It amazes me how often we don’t get this concept. We think if we stay the same way long enough, the world around us will change for the better. Then we get frustrated when it doesn’t. We fail to recognize that if the actions remain the same, so will the results.

Several years back I heard live a talk by author and pastor Dr. Andy Stanley on “systems” titled “Liberating Your Organization.” I bought a DVD of the talk and have watched it numerous times over the years.

Dr. Stanley’s core message is that systems create behaviors. Whether it is in our personal life, at work or in organizations that we belong to, each of us has systems in place to make things happen. Oftentimes the systems in place work … oftentimes the systems in place are broken. Regardless, systems determine outcomes.

What happens is that we create a system that leads to a certain result. In time, the system gets a result that we don’t want, yet we keep using the same system and then get frustrated when the system doesn’t get a different result. For example, if we expect one of our children to take out the trash and we remind them and hound them and remind them until they take out the trash, we have put in place a system that has taught the child that each time the trash is to be taken out, there will be several rounds of continual reminding before it is taken out.

In this example, by the time the child takes out the trash, both the parent and the child are very frustrated. It is clearly a broken system. This system does result in the trash being taken out, but it uses too much energy in the process and lowers the quality of life for both the parent and the child.

If the parent tells the child that if he doesn’t take the trash out by seven o’clock each Monday evening, the parent will take it out himself and there will be no allowance paid, then at 7:10 on Monday evening, rather than reminding the child, the parent simply takes the trash out himself and the child does not get any allowance. What has occurred is that the parent has decided to change the system. Changing the system avoids a frustrating exchange each Monday evening. It also teaches the child self-discipline and to be responsible.

An example in the workplace is that if a weekly meeting is to start at 8 a.m. and half those who attend don’t show up until after 8 and the meeting regularly begins at 8:15, the employer should not be upset at those who arrive late. Basically, the employer is rewarding those who come late by not starting the meeting until they get there. Whether the employer intended to train his team or not, he has trained them that there are no consequences to coming in late, and those who come on time are penalized by wasting 10-15 minutes of their life.

Rather than getting mad at the late-arrivers each week, the employer should change the system. Dr. Stanley states that he figures 80 percent of the time, when a leader gets frustrated, it is the system that causes the anger, not the employee.

We create or maintain systems that cause behaviors we don’t care for and then we get angry at the individuals who follow the system. Don’t fire the employee, change the system. If the system is changed, the individual becomes trained to behave in a more favorable manner.

A core concept of the talk is that what is rewarded is repeated. It doesn’t matter if you reward good or bad behavior — if the behavior is rewarded, it will occur again.

Humans are creatures of habit. Just as a dog will repeat behavior if he is given a treat after a certain behavior, so will humans.

Dr. Stanley says that the systems your organization uses are more important than the organization’s mission statement. One is on the wall while the other is happening down the hall. What is on your wall is nice, but what is happening down the hall is reality.

Results are not driven solely by a mission statement, a personnel handbook, morning meetings, employee evaluations or other single events. Results are driven by systems that have been created. Systems drive results.

In a nutshell, if you want to change your company, your organization or your family, change your systems. My challenge to you today is to assess the systems you are using in your life. Are the results of your systems good results? Or are your systems allowing those within it to exhibit poor behavior? Are you getting frustrated with individuals who are merely following a system currently in place?

Oftentimes things aren’t as complicated as they seem. You are where you are today because of the results of past and current systems. Don’t complain, change. If you don’t change what you are doing, you will keep getting what you are getting. If you change what you are doing, there is hope that you can get what you are looking for.

Change a system and change your results. If you don’t change the system, don’t get angry at those who have been trained in your system for following the system in place.

Just a thought …

Rick Kraft, a South Pasadena High School graduate, is a syndicated columnist, a motivational speaker, a published author, and an attorney. To submit comments, contributions, or ideas, e-mail to