Many a business that seeks improvement starts with business processes to improve and miss the huge opportunities to fix how they design and manage  work.  Near the top of the list is what I call the “Inverse Influence Factor” . . . where the influence of how systems (including processes) are put together by those that are further away from the work.

The Inverse Influence Factor (IIF) is defined by decisions that are made further from the work.  Defined – The farther from the work one is in the hierarchy or roles, the greater the influence on the work and the design of the work.  This would seem illogical to most and it is, but it is practiced in business and government on a daily basis.

Why would the supporting casts of finance, information technology and human resources wield more control over systems then those that operationally perform the service?  Add management with their “big picture” thinking and the affects of decision-making on the work can be devastating.

The existing business improvement fads of recent ignore the need for change in these areas pressing ahead for process improvement using kaizen events.  These fads completely miss or ignore the fact that IIF is at play.

The problem with ignoring IIF is the people that make decisions in traditional organizations have no knowledge of how things operate.  Improvement rarely comes without knowledge about how services are delivered.  Management and supporting roles lack perspective and they happily move forward with process improvement, because they don’t have to change.  Change is (after all) for the little people from their perspective.

The truth is that no improvement comes without systemic change.  And with the largest area of need for change being the design and management of work, there is much to address. When we fail to address these the results are anemic or non-existent.

Systems demand that they be run by the people with knowledge of the work.  Not from people that have theories and ideologies separated from the work.

Improvement begins with getting knowledge about work or leaving the decision-making in the hands of those that do and/or understand the work. This is a course correction for many service and government organizations that plan first and think later.

If the IIF is in play in your organization, waste and sub-optimization will prevail in your system.  Influence should come from knowledge, not hierarchy.

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Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for  Download free from “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at LinkedIn at