Best People in The Worse System Or Best System With Worse People – Who Will Win?

It is a question that has been posed forever. Do people drive Organisational success or is a successful Organisation the by-product of highly efficient Organisational systems?

Of course, people are the core strength of any Organisation. It is people (top management) who make crucial decisions, people (middle management) who create strategies for implementation of decisions and people (front line staff) who actually execute the strategies and implement the decisions. A high performance Organisation results when people at all levels of the Organisation carry out their responsibilities in the best and most efficient manner.

Also, every Organisation has certain systems and practices in place, which help its people carry out their responsibilities. The more efficient these systems, better the support they provide to people. As a result, people are better able to fulfil their designated roles, resulting in a highly successful and growth oriented Organisation.

The question that we are exploring today is what is the interrelationship between systems and people in contributing to the growth of the Organisation.

People, Systems & Success

Highly motivated individuals and best performers working in conjunction with the best Organisational systems is the ideal scenario for any Organisation. In such a case, work proceeds uninterrupted, productivity is high and returns in terms of financial growth and customer satisfaction remain consistently high.

But ideal situations are quite rare. In practice, Organisations grapple with the problem of either poor performers or poor systems. How then does this affect the business?

Do the best people perform well with poor (worse) systems? Or do the best systems bring out superior performance even from the most mediocre (worse) people? Let’s find out.

(Of course the worst case scenario is a combination of poor performers and poorly designed systems. In this case, there are very little chances that the Organisation will ever succeed).

Before exploring the scenarios of ‘best people in the worse systems’ and ‘best systems with the worse people’, and which one is the winner, let us first define ‘best people’ and ‘best systems’.

What Defines ‘Best People’ in an Organisation?

Best people are highly motivated performance oriented individuals. They

  • Take initiative.
  • Have clearly set goals.
  • Focus on achievement of their goals.
  • Communicate well.
  • Actively seek feedback for improvement.
  • Work towards achievement of the Organisational mission and vision.

Of course these are just some of the characteristics that define the best people. There are obviously several more.

What Defines Best Systems in an Organisation?

Every Organisation has systems at several levels, which support people in carrying out their tasks. Some of the Organisational systems include

  • Clear and precise system of communication at all levels within the Organisation
  • Formal communication system whereby senior management regularly interacts with employees at all levels, and communicates the Organisational mission and vision.
  • Objective and transparent system for performance evaluation and assessment.
  • A culture that actively encourages employee feedback and suggestions and provides people a platform to explore their creativity.
  • A system that offers opportunities for growth and advanced career prospects to people.
  • Well defined technical and/or process systems, which help make processes more efficient.
  • Step by step process systems that guide people and reduce chances of errors significantly.

Again, these are just some examples of best systems within Organisations, there are several more.

Now coming back of the crux of this article

Best People in the Worse System – the Result

Such a situation means that the best performers in the Organisation are not getting the required support from Organisational systems.

For instance, the Organisational vision and mission may not have been communicated well and there may be no direct/open channels of communication with top management. But because high performers are highly motivated individuals and take initiative, they go the extra mile to find out this information and align their goals in line with the Organisational goals.

When process systems are not well defined, processes become highly inefficient. And high performing individuals find their time being wasted on un-productive tasks. This can demotivate the best people, as they value their time highly. In some cases, such people do take initiative and ‘fix’ the system, (which is good), but there is the risk that they may simply quit if they find better opportunities.

Non-transparent performance evaluation systems and systems which do not recognize and reward the best people do the most harm. The best people are aware of their strengths and the value they bring to the Organisation, and if the Organisation is not recognizing and appreciating that value, they would prefer to go elsewhere.

Will the Best System Work with Worse People?

When the right systems are in place, they do tend to create a more efficient work environment, even if the people are not particularly high performers.

For instance, when the Organisational mission and vision are clearly communicated and there are open channels of communication within the Organisation, it is easy even for mediocre employees to set the right goals (with help from their managers perhaps) and work towards achieving those.

Highly efficient process systems, being in place, make is easier for people to carry out the processes efficiently and without time consuming errors.

Also the presence of objective and transparent performance assessment systems leaves no room for doubt as to why employee A (high performer) received a bonus, while employee B (low/mediocre performer) did not. In fact, the system of recognition and rewards for high performers actually serves to motivate the mediocre performers to move into the high performance zone themselves.

Lastly with objective systems in place, Organisations can precisely explain to low performers where and how their performance is below par. This makes it easier for Organisations to bid goodbye to worse people and retain only the high performers. Such decision is possible only because of the presence of the best systems in the Organisation.

Conclusion – Who Wins

When best people are grappling with poor systems, there are chances that they may fix those systems themselves, which is good for the Organisation. But more often, such people are set up for failure on account of the system and they don’t take too kindly to it. So the chances are higher that high performers will experience feelings of demotivation in such a set up and will jump out at the first opportunity that presents itself.

On the other hand, best systems do tend to support and bring out the best performance even in worse performers. But for worse people, it is a constant struggle against the system to align themselves with the system, quite like the penguins did with the peacock in the book ‘A Peacock in the Land of Penguins’.

The recommendation by this writer is to fix the top management, front line and the system and everything else will fall in place.


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