System or Individual? – The 95/5 Rule at Work in Service

My original post on the 95/5 Rule has been a popular and aggravating one.  Most managers believe that performance comes down to the individual.  This fundamental thought leads to more poorly designed systems than almost anything else.  We see it in business, government and education.

A system is comprised of all elements.  They include the structure, equipment, work design, measures, thinking. IT, customer demand, etc.

Let’s take a look at a service worker and what the system controls and what an individual controls in their work.  If we look at an HVAC technician (tech) that fixes furnaces, we can see what the tech controls and what the system controls.

Volume of customer demand –  This comes down to the system, the tech can not control the volume of work.

Type of customer demand – This again can not be controlled by the individual this is delivered by the customer out side of the control of the individual.

No one at the house – Not within the control of the individual

Traffic jams – Dictated by the system and not by the individual.

Poor weather conditions – System

Wrong parts – Typically the system will provide parts for a service van.

Waiting for parts – The cribs where inventory is located is run by someone outside the technician.

The same thinking can be applied to any service worker.  They rarely can dictate their own performance.  The system – good or bad – drives performance.  This is within management’s control, not the individual.

Workers in contact centers have to overcome poorly designed work, entrapping IT, great variety of phone calls, IVR systems, rules, procedures, scripts, etc.  All things they have little say in the development and the worker is at their mercy.

Yet, we build HR systems to “objectively” evaluate the performance of the individual with appraisals.  Management with forced compliance through “compliance or process police” that monitor the worker.  Both are sources of great waste in the bureaucracies they build.

It must be maddening to the worker that has to endure management that focuses on them rather than the system that dictates their performance.  The worker becomes compliant and submissive to management and supporting roles like IT, HR and finance when they are the only ones providing any value work.

How did management allow such behemoth systems full of waste to be built?  It has taken time and well-intended, but misguided thinking.  It won’t take to long to reverse the course, if you are willing to change your thinking.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

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

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