Behind Every System is a Person

In the business world, the nonprofit world, academia, you name it, there is something known as “the system.” The system is a set of rules for how things must be done, and how people must conduct themselves. “The system” is associated with bureaucracy, and we who must work within its confines often find ourselves frustrated and angry. Depending on how personally invested we are, we may go out of our way to change it so that everyone can be more efficient, more productive, and more profitable.

Railing against “the system” also seems to be a safe way of complaining.  As long as we’re directing our ire in a general, faceless direction, no one is going to get their feelings hurt, right?  Sounds logical, except we have to remember that for every system that’s in place, there is a group of people who came up with it, and who work very hard to maintain it.  For example, your company’s human resources department likely slaved away for months coming up with that new performance management system.  They reviewed dozens of potential solutions, ultimately chose the one they thought was best, and then spent the better part of the year planning the rollout.

When the process for your annual review goes awry, you won’t blame your boss – at least not directly.  Instead, you’ll send e-mails and tell anyone who will listen how much the new performance management system sucks. And your actions won’t endear you to the folks in HR. You might not be attacking them personally, but because that performance management is their baby, it feels like it.

If you want to keep your reputation intact, it’s wise to treat “the system” as a person you have to answer to.

Alexandra Levit is a Partner at PeopleResults and is passionate about helping people and organizations succeed in the evolving workplace. You can reach her at or on Twitter @alevit.