To excel at anything, it’s not enough to have a sense of responsibility; you also need a sense of excitement. As the saying goes, “Those who know do not compare to those who do well, and those who do well do not compare to those who enjoy.” To excel in “organization,” it’s ideal to have the enthusiasm of someone who enjoys it.
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In general, “organization” is something that not only fails to ignite excitement in people but also often struggles to instill a sense of responsibility. It tends to foster a sense of “collective irresponsibility.” The common phenomenon in dealing with the matter of organization is passive compliance, a thorough but unenthusiastic approach, and the blame game. This is even true for senior leaders in organizations.
Why is it challenging to generate excitement for this matter? Why is it difficult even to inspire a sense of responsibility, let alone excitement? Several common reasons can be observed, and these are often why:
First, in the majority of companies, even senior executives have limited room to maneuver when it comes to organization. They end up patching and mending, unable to do what they truly desire. Many talented individuals cannot thrive within large organizations, and one significant reason is the limited space for them to contribute in terms of organization. This lack of room for contribution is accompanied by substantial penalties (and opportunity costs) for any mistakes made.
Not only do they face penalties, but in some organizations, they also need to constantly support the arbitrary actions of the founder and CEO, applaud sincerely, willingly take the blame, and refrain from criticism. If they do criticize, it’s considered insubordination, leading to exclusion from decision-making. It’s essential to note that this is not about attributing all responsibility to the founder and CEO; they are human too and often just as ordinary in terms of organizational matters.
This significant inequality in power when it comes to organization, even for senior executives, makes it challenging for them to feel a sense of presence, responsibility, and certainly excitement. If this is the case for senior leaders, middle managers and front-line employees have an even harder time.
So, what’s the solution? Many people simply go with the flow, act like they’re ignorant, excel in specific measurable aspects of their job, passively wait for an organizational crisis to guide them, and refrain from taking real action unless the top leadership genuinely demonstrates commitment (perhaps by undergoing real pain).
The second reason is that organizational work inevitably involves complex interpersonal relationships. Nobody wants to engage in such laborious and thankless tasks. It’s perceived as conflict-ridden.
How do you dare constrain or reform me? Haven’t you seen that historically, people who organized things didn’t fare well?
What to do then? It’s often easier to be a little ignorant, create a warm little circle for yourself, avoid that muddy water, and live a simpler life.
The third reason is that even when there is a founder and CEO who can provide space for contribution, excitement may still be lacking. This is because organizational work requires specific skills and talents. Without these, it’s challenging to generate excitement, even when the potential for significant value creation exists.
So, what talents are needed? Here are a few examples:
First, these individuals should have an excitement for thought leadership and values. If they are only interested in administrative authority, they are unlikely to be interested in organizational work. Of course, an excitement for thought leadership and values should be complemented by corresponding abilities. They must have acute sensitivity to ideas and values, being capable of discerning those intangible elements others might overlook. Additionally, they must possess basic communication skills—both verbal and written—because speaking and writing are fundamental for thought leadership and values. If they cannot speak or write, taking on organizational work becomes a daunting task.
Second, they should find achievement in long-term results. They should desire and enjoy the feeling of strategizing, making decisions, and conquering obstacles over the long run. If someone cannot delay gratification, organizational work can be extremely agonizing. Furthermore, they should have a sense of systemization, as an obsession with immediate outcomes and a focus on “personal connections” is not suitable for organizational work. Interpersonal sensitivity may be a natural talent, but it may not apply to organizational roles.
Finally, they should be gender-agnostic. Those who perceive organizational work as feminized are unlikely to find excitement in it.
Using the word “talent” might seem exaggerated, but it isn’t. Otherwise, every founder and CEO could easily establish an exceptional organization. Those who haven’t made an effort in this regard often tend to downplay the importance of talent.
To sum up, the matter of “organization” is challenging not only to inspire excitement but even to ensure a sense of responsibility. This is a “fact” I have increasingly recognized and acknowledged.
What does this imply? Does it mean we should abandon our efforts to establish organizations? Absolutely not.
It means that to establish an organization successfully, we cannot solely rely on emotional appeals, logical reasoning, opening up ideas, and improving capabilities. We must supplement these with rules, standards, and systems that mitigate the weaknesses of human nature. More precisely, we should use systems to mitigate the weaknesses of “collective” behavior.
Of course, this system must be initiated by the top leadership, and it should first be applied to the top leadership itself. The system should distribute responsibilities broadly, with everyone sharing the burden and wading through the muddy waters together. It should include clear metrics and sufficient rewards and penalties. In essence, it’s akin to “promoting democracy through autocracy.”
The goal of the System Owner methodology is to provide a way to achieve this. By making the System Owner methodology more rigid and establishing it as a company-wide institutional framework, we create the System Owner system.
In simple terms, the conventional method of organizing structures generally designates individuals responsible for various parts (head, torso, limbs, hair, etc.) but often fails to assign individuals to crucial systems (such as the nervous system, digestive system, respiratory system). As a result, the organization may appear to have a “human shape” on the surface but lacks the full “function” of a human being. The System Owner system aims to ensure that all essential organizational systems have responsible individuals. These individuals are expected to achieve the functional goals of each organizational system and work together toward mutually supportive objectives. The functionality of organizational systems can be measured qualitatively and quantitatively, allowing us to assess the development and evolution of each system’s functionality periodically. These developments and evolutions can be used to evaluate the performance and contributions of System Owners.
The System Owner does not need to be a full-time position. The System Owner system aims to make everyone (especially leaders) a “slash youth”—individuals who are both responsible for a specific business aspect and leaders of a particular organizational subsystem. Whether at headquarters or in frontline roles, whether in customer-facing, middle-office, or back-office positions, individuals can become System Owners. However, individuals in middle and back-office roles are more likely to assume System Owner responsibilities more frequently.