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I received some off-line feedback recently on a previous post.

The feedback was prompted by my Fighting the Physics post (if you haven’t read that post, it will be worth your five minutes to hit the link and read).

The main point of that post was that organizations must be designed to produce the performance that is desired.  When they aren’t, people working in those organizations inevitably underperform and disappoint, losing an unwinnable fight, irrespective of their skill, and will.

“Steve” shared with me that he agreed with that point, but thought it was incomplete.  What about people?  Aren’t they sometimes the cause of poor performance?  When initiatives go haywire, isn’t it sometimes the result of sub par skill, will, or direction?

And then Steve proceeded to give me an example,  one which he knew I knew; and one which substantially supported his point.

Remember My Starfish Reminder?  In that post I wrote: “Ultimately, it isn’t the system that performs.  It only enables.  People perform.”

Steve was pointing out the possibility of the flip side.  Sure, systems enable, or they don’t.   Same with people, no?  People perform; but sometimes they don’t.

This isn’t rocket science, but it is important.  It raises an awareness of a meaningful distinction — while an enabling design is a necessary condition for organizational performance, it is not sufficient in and of itself.

People still need to perform.

Even a perfectly designed paper airplane needs a pilot.