Section I: System Thinking 5
Or, as Albert Ellis might state a conditional should in his line of
work: “If you want to stop acting like a nutty person, here is what
you should do…” In Ellis’s thinking, “shoulds” are always
conditional—dependent on a specific set of conditions.
The performance analyst might state a conditional “should” this
way: “If you want to have specific performance results, here is what
you should do….” A therapist such as Albert Ellis cannot tell you
what your goals in life should be, now and forever; a performance
analyst cannot tell you what your organizational goals should be.
But we can tell you that your goals should be clear, consistent, and
measured, now and forever. We can help.
Leaders look at confusing situations and say: “This is what we
should do!” Managers look at confusing situations and say: “If X is
our goal, this is what we should do….”
Leaders are more persuasive if they say why: “X is our goal
and here is why....!” Managers are more persuasive if they set up
management systems so that everyone knows “What I should do,
why, how, when, how well, and with whom.”
That is it! You now know the tasks of leaders and of managers.
Leadership is about where we should go; management is about
how we could get there. An expert in performance improvement
must help them do their tasks if he or she is to help them improve
performance. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But many of us, allegedly
in the performance improvement business, begin toting barges and
lifting bales without doing the analysis necessary to establish a
clear notion of where the barge is going or why or when it must
arrive. Or worse, we tote barges and lift bales without a clue about
the organizational consequences of our work.
Continue reading this book if you would like some of the
details—details about figuring out what to do and how, about getting
fallible human beings to agree, and getting fallible human beings
(including yourself) to act intelligently.
About System Thinking
This book applies and is a product of system thinking. System
thinking is a way of looking at the world—a perspective that is
common among successful farmers, naval admirals, parents, and a
few great leaders and managers.
6 Performance Analysis
System thinking looks at anything that performs as a system.
All these are systems:
• A small business
• A not-for-profit agency
• My neighbor's dog
• A fallible human being (who might be the owner/operator/
janitor of a small business or a professional in a not-for-
• A rose bush
• A family
• An ecosystem
• Your favorite aunt
This book will not talk about rose bushes, aunts, and dogs, but
will use examples of the other systems to help you understand
system concepts. The idea is to help you ground them in your
experience so that you do not have to take my word about rele-
vance and applicability.
The four chapters in Section I describe and illustrate system
analysis as a way to figure out what to do and why.
Chapter 1: System Analysis: Attaining Clarity of Direction
opens the way, discussing the importance of gathering infor-
mation about context and searching for critical issues faced by
the organization and its people.
Chapter 2: The Systemic Thinking Lens continues the dis-
cussion of systemic context and finding the variables that
impact performance. The chapter points out some variables
that can be managed and some that cannot. The chapter intro-
duces fundamental systemic concepts, describing the concepts
in the context of a business and in the context of a family. Why
in the context of a family? Two reasons: First, all readers have
experience in at least one family; second, some businesses,
especially not-for-profits, serve families and like to think they
create a family atmosphere within the business.