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Systems leadership in the manufacturing industry

 A people-first approach for leaders based on systems

By: Angelique Toorians en Jeroen Minnee, 30th of March 2024


Juggling multiple responsibilities and departments within a company is oftentimes a challenging task. Frictions tend to be almost inevitable, given the complexity of human interactions and the diversity of tasks and objectives within departments and your clients. Like conflicting priorities, interpersonal conflicts, lack of communication, silos or lack of collaboration or change management. Addressing these challenges requires a combination of effective leadership, clear communication, conflict resolution skills, and a commitment to foster a collaborative and inclusive work environment. By recognizing and actively dealing with these challenges, you can reduce friction and create a more cohesive and resilient company. But how to do that? That is the big question. Right?

We would like to introduce systems leadership as a way to approach these issues and more. Simply said, ‘systems leadership is like being the captain of a big ship in a vast ocean. Instead of just focusing on steering your own ship, you also need to understand the currents, weather patterns, and other ships around you. Systems leaders look at the big picture, understanding how different parts of a complex system fit together and how they can work with others to navigate toward shared goals. It’s about seeing connections, collaborating with others, and steering the entire system toward positive change.

Before going into systems leadership, it is crucial to explore the concept of friction: what it entails, its associated costs, and root causes. It is essential to understand why systems are set up in the first place. In addition, companies need to assess the dynamics within their work environment to identify the sources of friction and inefficiency. By using systems, you can effectively address a significant portion of your friction-related challenges, increase productivity, and streamline business operations.

What is friction? Its definition.

First, let’s try to define what friction is. In physics, friction is defined as something that slows things down. The same idea applies to business. Figuratively, friction in business refers to anything that makes tasks longer or more difficult. Just as friction makes machines less efficient, it also makes businesses less efficient.

Employee friction refers to conflicts, tensions, or disagreements between colleagues or between employees and management in a workplace. It often arises from differences in personality, work style, priorities, expectations, or goals and can hinder productivity, cooperation, and overall harmony in the workplace.

Perception of work friction

Research findings suggest a remarkable difference in perceptions of friction at work between business leaders and employees. A substantial disparity emerges when we examine how these two groups view the progression of friction at work over time. While close to half of employees believe that friction at work has increased, business leaders hold a distinctly different view. An astonishing three-quarters of business leaders often see friction at work as static or, surprisingly, as improving.

This stark difference highlights a fundamental disconnect between the perspectives and realities of organization leaders and the employees they are leading. It implies that leaders must earnestly close this gap and become more perceptive about the obstacles and circumstances that their staff are facing. Ignoring or downplaying the concerns that employees raise regarding friction at work can have detrimental effects on the morale, efficiency, and ultimately the success of your company.

To bridge this gap, business leaders must proactively engage in open dialogue, listen carefully to employee feedback, and take decisive action to address the root causes of friction at work. By aligning perceptions, priorities, and strategies between leadership and employees, you can create a more inclusive, supportive, and ultimately productive work environment for all stakeholders.

Symptoms of friction?

In fact, friction is an inherent aspect of any workplace dynamic. With different personalities and various expectations, a certain amount of friction is inevitable. However, when friction reaches a level where it significantly hinders business operations, it becomes necessary to address the issue(s). Below are some common indicators or manifestations of undue friction. Are any of these similar to what you feel is happening in your company?

  • Low employee morale;

  • Missing deadlines or more errors;

  • Customer complaints or decreased satisfaction;

  • Lack of innovation or creativity;

  • Under-performing employees;

  • Blame culture;

  • Stagnant growth or declining profits;

  • Increased absenteeism or presenteeism;

  • Resistance to change;

  • Lack of enthusiasm and engagement;

  • Negative attitude and mood; or

  • Poor team dynamics.

What causes friction?

An alternative viewpoint regards friction as “the resistance to the flow of energy”. This perspective invites further investigation: Which are the factors contributing to such resistance? What are the root causes behind friction in this context?

Weak leadership Leadership plays a crucial role in setting the tone for the work environment. A leader who is supportive, encouraging, and empathetic can change someone’s commitment to their work. What kind of leader are you? Do you go out on the floor regularly? Do you listen to complaints or frustrations with an open mind? Do you provide a clear vision? Do you uphold accountability? Do you take feedback seriously? Do you also listen to that one irritating, always complaining employee?

Poor communication and poor information flow – Communication breakdowns, both between managers and employees as well as between team members, cause misunderstandings, confusion, and conflict. A lack of transparent and open communication channels can exacerbate friction: insufficient information sharing between teams or departments slows down cooperation and alignment. When crucial information is withheld or not disseminated effectively, it hampers decision-making and fuels mistrust.

Lack of focus or misdirected focus – Where organizations lack a clear focus or are pursuing the wrong priorities, it leads to wasted resources, conflicting agendas, and disinterest amongst employees. Friction occurs when individuals feel that their efforts are not aligned with the overall goals.

Neglecting customer feedback: Ignoring or rejecting customer feedback can cause misalignment between products or services and the customer’s needs. Without a customer-centric approach, companies risk losing relevance and credibility, causing internal friction as employees struggle with declining performance or dissatisfaction.

Discouraging work culture – Cultures that discourage experimentation and innovation stifle growth and progress. If employees feel that their ideas are not valued or that taking initiative is discouraged, this dampens morale and contributes to a stagnant work environment.

Weak accountability and controls -Inadequate accountability structures or ineffective monitoring mechanisms allow problems to linger and remain unresolved. In the absence of clear guidelines and consequences, individuals may evade their duties, fuelling frustration and disharmony.

Complex tools, systems, and processes – Existing tools, systems, and processes play a crucial role in your employees’ daily work and can have a major impact on their morale. If these tools are too complicated or create bottlenecks in the workflows of teams, it can result in frustration and irritation, as well as more errors. Are your systems outdated? What is causing this? Do you actually already know something needs to change about your systems, but you don’t know how or what? In terms of systems, what are your employees struggling with?

Lack of training and education – Training and development opportunities suggest that companies invest in employee growth and career development, which increases motivation and engagement. If people feel they have no growth opportunities, they might look elsewhere, to another company that does support their development and growth. Do you offer training and development programs for all employees? Or only for a select few? How can you offer training to everyone interested?

What links these factors is their dependence on human processes and interactions, requiring individuals to interact, both internally and externally.  What emerges from this is the key idea behind the creation of systems. We humans created systems to manage and control as much as possible. Right? But why?

The WHY of systems

Human processes, such as communication, decision-making, and collaboration, are the core of organizational dynamics. When those processes encounter friction or breakdowns, they not only disrupt internal operations, they also put pressure on relationships with external stakeholders, such as customers and partners.

Systems function as a scaffold for these processes, providing structure, guidelines, and tools to streamline processes and improve communication and accountability. Whether it is a robust project management system, a sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) platform, or a comprehensive organizational governance framework, systems are made to strengthen and enhance human capabilities.

When these systems are properly used and deployed, you as a company can reduce friction, enhance seamless operations, and strengthen relationships both internally and externally. Ultimately, the goal is to create an environment where people can collaborate, innovate, and flourish, backed by efficient and effective systems.

But ….. don’t forget the human factor

While systems play a crucial role in solving many frictional problems, they do not solve all problems. While creating systems aims to improve efficiency, processes, organizational structure, quality, compliance, and decision-making, sometimes focusing on only these goals overrides the human element.

Your efforts to increase efficiency and productivity are undoubtedly vital to the survival and growth of your business. However, you mustn’t overlook the people within your company. Business processes are complex and involve numerous interactions between individuals with different levels of responsibility.

Traditionally, corporate hierarchies were seen as mechanisms to control the flow of information. Ownership of information and knowledge gave leaders the ability to control resources and create policies. However, it is crucial to recognize that systems rely on people to function effectively. Even when processes are largely automated, human input is still indispensable.

People are essential, regardless of how much automation is implemented. They are necessary for troubleshooting issues, and their creativity and innovation are invaluable assets. The human resources within your company are pivotal to its success.

In essence, while systems are essential tools for improving efficiency and effectiveness, they must be complemented by a recognition of the intrinsic value of human capital. Balancing the optimization of systems with nurturing a supportive and empowered workforce is key to achieving sustained success in any company.

The costs of employee friction

What is the cost of employee friction? Quantifying the cost of employee friction can be challenging as it involves several factors, including reduced productivity, increased turnover, and lower morale. Nevertheless, several studies and reports have attempted to estimate these costs. Here are some statistical insights on the potential cost of employee friction:

Lost productivity

A Gallup study shows that unengaged employees cost US companies between $450 billion and $550 billion annually in lost productivity.

According to research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), companies with low employee engagement experience 18% lower productivity compared to those with high engagement.

Turnover costs

The Center for American Progress estimates that the cost of employee turnover can range between 16% and 213% of an employee’s salary, depending on their role and level within an organization.

The Work Institute’s Retention Report 2020 suggests that the average cost of employee turnover per employee is around 33% of their annual salary.

Recruitment and onboarding expenses

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates that it takes an average of six to nine months’ salary to replace an employee.

The Harvard Business Review suggests that the costs associated with recruiting, hiring and onboarding a new employee can range from tens of thousands to more than a hundred thousand dollars, depending on the position and industry.

Training and development costs

The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) estimates that US organizations spend about $1,296 per employee annually on training and development.

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report indicates that companies worldwide spend $2.2 trillion on training and development.

Absenteeism and presenteeism

The Integrated Benefits Institute estimates that the total annual cost of lost productivity due to absenteeism and presenteeism in the US is $1,685 per employee.

A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggests that presenteeism (being at work but not fully functioning) can cost organizations up to four times more than absenteeism.

Litigation and legal fees

Legal costs associated with employment-related disputes, including lawsuits for discrimination, harassment, or wrongful termination, can be significant and vary greatly depending on the complexity and duration of the dispute.

These costs may be attorney fees, court costs, settlement amounts, or damages awarded at trial. An exact figure for the total costs associated with employment-related disputes estimates suggests that the total cost to employers in the United States for employment litigation exceeds $1 billion annually.

Additionally, indirect costs such as reputational damage, loss of productivity, and employee morale can also contribute to the overall financial impact of employment-related disputes on organizations.

The costs of Low Morale: what does it look like?

Source: article [2]: Near – Low Employee Morale: Top 5 Signs and How You Can Boost It

Low employee morale can be defined as a state of mind in which employees have a negative or dissatisfied attitude towards their work, your company or the work environment.

When employees experience low morale, it manifests as a pervasive feeling of dissatisfaction, detachment and lack of motivation. Such employees may show reduced enthusiasm for their tasks, resulting in reduced productivity and efficiency. The negative impact on team dynamics and the overall performance of the company can be profound.

Gallup (a US multinational analysis and consulting firm based in Washington D.C.) distinguishes three types of employees:

1. Engaged -Employees with a high level of engagement feel strongly connected to your company and show enthusiasm for their work. They are often the driving force behind initiatives.

2. Disengaged (not engaged) – Employees who are disinterested in their work may appear bored or apathetic about their job and your company. They do not get motivated by rewards or recognition and tend to live up to the set expectations only.

3. Actively disengaged – These individuals are very dissatisfied with their current situation, unenthusiastic about their tasks, and have a negative attitude towards the company. In fact, they may undermine your company’s goals, deliberately spread negativity in the workplace, or even sabotage the efforts of co-workers.

Some numbers on employee morale in the UK in 2023

26% of UK employees are “actively disengaged” at work (Gallup);

57% of UK employees are disengaged at work (Gallup);

17% of UK employees are engaged at work (Gallup);

Only 19% of managers and directors reported a “high interest” in their jobs (Gallup);

The average employee engagement score in the UK in 2023 was 45% (Qualtrics).

Now that we understand the different employee categories, we can reasonably conclude that low employee morale is often linked to higher rates of unengaged and actively unengaged employees within any organization.

Addressing low morale requires targeted efforts to improve employee engagement, increase job satisfaction, and identify, and address the root causes of the lack of engagement that we mentioned above.

Unraveling the roots

Understanding the sources of friction and dissatisfaction among employees requires a proactive and empathetic approach. It is essential to figure out what is going on and how or where employees feel friction and frustration.

An effective method to uncover your employees’ frustrations are anonymous surveys. These surveys provide employees with a platform to give their feedback candidly and offer both quantitative data and qualitative insights. Once you have identified the sources of friction and dissatisfaction, it is essential to take proactive measures to address them. Develop action plans to address identified issues, communicate transparently with employees about planned interventions, and conduct regular follow-ups to track progress and provide accountability.

Friction survey

It is vital to recognize that the core essence of your business is reflected in the experiences and views of your employees. By actively seeking their feedback through confidential surveys, you not only show respect for their input but also empower them to contribute to positive changes within the company.

These kinds of surveys provide a direct line of communication between management and employees and provide insight into what is going on internally, which may not become clear through using other practices. In keeping the questions open and ensuring anonymity, you create a safe space for honest and candid feedback, allowing employees to express their thoughts and concerns without fear of repercussions.

With innovative tools like ChatGPT, creating such surveys has also become a simple process, allowing you to tweak questions according to your specific unique requirements and challenges.

To pinpoint potential sources of friction within your organization, it’s essential to gather insights from your employees regarding different facets of their work environment. Here are several topics and example questions you may want to explore with your company/teams.

Friction topics and example questions

Work environment and resources

  • What words would you use to characterize the atmosphere within your team/the company?
  • Do you feel encouraged to voice your opinions and ideas during team meetings or discussions?
  • Are there specific elements in your work environment that consistently cause stress or present challenges?
  • Do you encounter any physical or logistical obstacles that get in the way of your productivity regularly?
  • Have you faced any difficulties related to quality control processes or encountered challenges in maintaining product standards?

Communication and collaboration

  • How would you rate the effectiveness of communication channels within the team/company on a scale of 1 to 10?
  • Do you experience hurdles or barriers that prevent effective collaboration with your colleagues or other teams?
  • Do you feel sufficiently informed about decisions, changes, or updates that have an impact on your work?
  • Do you feel adequately involved in decision-making processes that directly affect your responsibilities?
  • Are decisions communicated transparently, and do you feel there is clarity regarding the reasoning behind them?

Feedback and performance management

  • How do you feel about the feedback and performance evaluation process within the team/company?
  • How frequently do you receive constructive feedback on your work?
  • Are there any specific challenges or problems you encounter when it comes to setting goals or performance expectations?
  • Are there sufficient channels for feedback so that all team members have a voice in sharing their perspectives and concerns?
  • Does the management demonstrate an active commitment to listening to and addressing concerns and feedback from employees?

Conflict Resolution and decision-making

  • How are conflicts typically addressed within the team/organization?
  • Do you feel that decisions are made transparently and fairly?
  • Are there any instances where decision-making processes have caused friction or dissatisfaction?
  • Are there any recurring sources of conflict that need to be addressed?

Role clarity and responsibilities

  • Do you have a clear understanding of your role and responsibilities within the team/company?
  • Have you come across instances of ambiguity or the overlapping of roles causing confusion or friction?
  • Do you feel that your contributions are recognized and valued by both your colleagues and your managers?
  • Do you feel you have adequate flexibility and autonomy to carry out your responsibilities effectively?

Workload and time management

  • Do you feel tasks are divided fairly and do you have a clear understanding of your responsibilities?
  • Have you identified any inefficiencies or bottlenecks in your workflow that are limiting your productivity?
  • How do you perceive your workload in terms of its manageability and distribution?
  • Do you have enough resources and support necessary to meet deadlines and deliverables?
Career development and growth opportunities

  • Are there opportunities for professional growth and promotion within the team/company?
  • Are there any barriers or challenges you face in pursuing career development opportunities?
  • Do you feel supported in your professional growth and development?
  • Are there clear career paths within the company?
  • Are there enough opportunities for training and development available?
Recognition and rewards

  • Do you feel valued and recognized for your contributions?
  • To what extent do you believe contributions to projects are acknowledged and valued within the team/company?
  • Are there any specific suggestions you have to improve recognition and reward mechanisms within the company?
Leadership and management style

  • How would you describe the overall management style within the team/company from your perspective?
  • Do you feel your manager provides clear guidance and direction in your job?
  • How does your manager handle feedback and constructive criticism from employees?
  • Do you believe your manager effectively fosters open communication and transparency within the team/company?
  • From your viewpoint, how does your manager support employee growth and development?

Company culture and values

  • Do you feel connected to the company’s mission and values?
  • Do you perceive a sense of inclusivity and belonging within the company culture?
  • To what extent does the company’s culture align with your values and beliefs?
  • How effectively does the company foster diversity and embrace different perspectives?
  • Do you believe the company actively promotes a culture of integrity and ethical behavior?

Overall satisfaction and engagement
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with your overall experience working in your team/company?

  • How likely are you to recommend our team/organization as a great place to work to others?

  • What specific aspects of your role or the work environment contribute most to your overall job satisfaction?
  • Do you have any additional comments or suggestions to improve your overall work experience?

By exploring these subjects and gathering feedback from your employees, you will gain valuable insights into areas where friction may exist and you need to take proactive steps to address them, fostering a more positive and productive work environment.

However, the real value of these surveys is not only about collecting data, but also about acting on it. As a manager, it is crucial to show that you are truly committed to dealing with the issues raised by employees and implementing tangible solutions. Whether it is small adjustments to policies and procedures or a thorough overhaul of organizational systems, every action taken sends a powerful message of respect and appreciation to employee input.

In the end, the key to realizing the full potential of your staff is to foster a culture of open communication and continuous improvement. By listening to your employees and taking meaningful action based on their input, you not only boost employee morale and satisfaction but also promote positive results for your company as a whole.

Mapping Friction

Follow-ups on the results of employee surveys, one-on-one talks,, or other practices to “feel” what is happening in the workplace or your team is essential. It is crucial to effectively address problems, make improvements, and show commitment to your employees’ feedback.

It is important to systematically analyze and respond to survey data, a methodical approach such as step-by-step mapping of frictions offers a detailed insight into the challenges, which will lead to targeted strategies for solutions and optimization.

Step 1 – Collect data
Collecting data around friction in companies typically involves gathering information related to various aspects of organizational dynamics, processes, and interactions. This could involve surveys, interviews, or observations. Quantitative data could include metrics such as response times, error rates, or completion times. Qualitative data could include feedback from employee surveys or observations of workflow bottlenecks.

Step 2 – Analyze all the data
Dive deeper into the root causes of friction. Analyze the survey results thoroughly and identify key themes, trends, and areas of concern. Look for patterns in the data, such as common problems or challenges reported by multiple employees. Look for patterns or similarities between the identified areas. Consider factors such as your company’s organizational culture, workflow structure, interpersonal dynamics, or technological constraints that may contribute to friction. Pay attention to both quantitative data and qualitative feedback to get a complete picture of all the results.

Step 3 – Visualize the friction
Visual representations such as flow charts, diagrams, heatmaps, and other visualization tools provide an effective way to illustrate areas of friction and their root causes within any organization. These visualizations provide a clear and accessible template that helps employees understand where frictions arise and why they occur. By presenting complex data in a visually intuitive way, these tools improve an understanding of organizational dynamics, allowing employees and stakeholders to identify patterns, trends, and opportunities for improvement.

Step 4 – Prioritize areas for Improvement
Determine priority areas to address frictions by assessing their impact on productivity, employee satisfaction, and organizational goals. Evaluate factors such as the severity of the friction, the feasibility of implementing solutions, and the potential benefits of improvement. By carefully considering these factors, you can focus your efforts on addressing the most critical areas of friction, maximize the effectiveness of your interventions, and make meaningful progress in achieving strategic goals.

Step 5 – Involve your employees
Involving your employees in the development and implementation of solutions to the problems revealed by the survey is of utmost importance. Ask employees for input and feedback on proposed changes and encourage their involvement in problem-solving and decision-making processes. By actively involving employees in these efforts, they will be able to take ownership of the solutions, making them feel more involved in driving meaningful change within your company. This collaborative approach not only taps into the insights and expertise of the front-line employees but also cultivates a culture of empowerment and accountability, ultimately leading to more effective and sustainable results.

Step 6 -Develop and implement solutions
Develop and implement solutions that minimize or eliminate frictions in the identified priority areas. Develop comprehensive action plans that demarcate specific steps, provide timelines, and assign responsibilities to relevant parties for implementing the necessary changes. Ensure that these action plans are practical, achievable, and in line with the company’s overarching goals. Possible solutions may include process redesign, technology improvements, training programs or revisions to policies and procedures. By implementing these solutions systematically, you can effectively reduce friction and promote a more streamlined and productive work environment.

Step 7 – Transparently communicate any findings to all employees
While mapping the areas of friction, it is essential to communicate openly and transparently with all employees. Share visual representations of the friction areas together with a summary of the key insights and issues identified. Also, communicate any action plans or subsequent steps that will be taken based on the data and feedback received. Transparency in this regard not only cultivates trust but also demonstrates a genuine commitment to addressing employee concerns. By keeping employees informed and involved, you encourage a culture of collaboration and empowerment, stimulating collective efforts for positive change and improvement.

Step 8 – Monitor and iterate
Consistently track the progress of action plans and conduct periodic evaluations to monitor the effectiveness of implemented changes. Ask for feedback from both employees and stakeholders to understand their experiences and perceptions. Modify your approach with flexibility when needed to address new sources of friction or to further refine existing processes. Adjust action plans wherever required based on gathered feedback and data to ensure a continuous process of improvement. Monitor key metrics related to employee satisfaction, engagement, and performance to quantitatively measure the impact of interventions. By maintaining this iterative and data-driven approach, you will enable ongoing improvement and promote a more empowered work environment.

By integrating qualitative and quantitative data, you will create a robust framework for identifying and managing friction, building trust with your employees, and fostering their continued commitment to both their work and your company as a whole. If you follow these steps, you can systematically monitor employee survey data and results, proactively address issues, and cultivate a work culture characterized by satisfaction, engagement, and increased productivity. Through this holistic approach, you can create an environment where employees feel valued, motivated, and inspired to put their best foot forward for shared goals and success.

System mapping to find friction bottlenecks

Have you ever thought about how implementing the right system can streamline the process of identifying potential sources of friction? Systems provide a powerful means of identifying and addressing employee friction bottlenecks through a range of mechanisms and functionalities. Let’s have a look at some of these tools.

Data Analytics
We already identified data analytics as a crucial tool to uncover potential sources of friction. Systems equipped with robust data analysis capabilities can collect, track, and closely examine various metrics related to employee interactions, output data, workload distribution, workflow procedures, feedback channels, and any other performance indicators. By analyzing this data,, systems can discover patterns, trends, and inefficiencies, helping to identify possible sources of friction and bottlenecks.

Workflow monitoring

As such, systems can track and monitor workflows in your company, from task assignment to completion. By monitoring workflow processes, systems can identify bottlenecks, such as delays, redundancies, or constraints in decision-making, which can interfere with productivity and contribute to employee friction.

Alerts and notifications

Tools can be set up to generate alerts or notifications when certain conditions indicate potential bottlenecks. For example, if a task is not completed for an extended period or if a project exceeds its allocated budget. The system can automatically alert managers to investigate potential bottlenecks and take any necessary action.

Feedback mechanisms

By implementing feedback mechanisms in systems, employees can voice their concerns, make suggestions, and provide insight into areas where friction may occur. By collecting and analyzing this feedback, you can identify common themes or issues that may indicate underlying bottlenecks or friction problems in your business.

Performance Monitoring

Systems with performance monitoring features enable managers to track employee productivity, engagement, and job satisfaction. Identifying areas where performance is lagging or where employees are experiencing problems can reveal potential sources of friction.

Your system can play a crucial role in identifying bottlenecks around employee friction by using these functionalities and capabilities, allowing you to take proactive action to address underlying issues and improve overall employee satisfaction and productivity.

Digital friction

The purpose of systems is to create efficiency, order, consistency, compliance, and better decision-making. But before going into how systems can solve 50% of the bottlenecks, it is essential to recognize that not all friction stems solely from interpersonal conflicts or problems between individuals. Sometimes the system itself can be a source of frustration for employees. Despite their best efforts, employees may struggle with inefficiencies or limitations within the system that hinder their productivity and job satisfaction. Let’s call this digital friction.

Digital friction refers to the obstacles, inefficiencies, or bottlenecks that occur within the digital domain that prevent smooth navigation, interaction, or task completion across multiple digital systems, platforms, or interfaces. It includes a range of factors that disrupt the flow of digital processes and interactions, leading to user frustration, delays, or reduced efficiency.

Sometimes your system does not quite match up with what your employees expect or need. This mismatch can make tasks feel more complicated or take longer than necessary. Perhaps key features your team relies on to keep their work running smoothly are missing. And if the system is not well-designed or user-friendly, it may just add to their frustration. All this can make your employees feel quite discouraged and uninterested in using the system.

It is therefore crucial to assess and address system-related frictions in addition to interpersonal challenges. By identifying areas where the system is not meeting employee needs and expectations, you can take proactive steps to improve system usability, functionality, and performance. This may mean implementing system updates or improvements, providing additional training and support, or soliciting user feedback to improve the system.

Ultimately, by recognizing and addressing digital (systemic) frictions, you can create a more supportive and stimulating work environment that enables employees to get the best out of themselves and achieve their goals effectively.

Some statistics on digital friction of employees

We would like to share some numbers on digital friction in the workspace:

  • Research conducted by the Qualtrics XM Institute revealed that 42% of employees feel they lack the necessary technology to perform their jobs effectively.

  • Findings from Gallup research show that a mere 34% of employees strongly agree they have access to the materials and equipment required to carry out their work successfully.

  • According to a report by Cornerstone, a staggering 70% of employees believe that enhanced digital tools in the workplace would significantly boost their productivity levels.

  • A recent survey conducted by LinkedIn uncovered that 62% of learning and development professionals struggle with the challenge of motivating employees to allocate time for learning and development initiatives.

  • The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2022, a significant 54% of the global workforce will necessitate substantial re- and upskilling efforts due to the rapid adoption of digital technologies in various industries.

In light of these numbers, it is increasingly clear that any company needs to prioritize the implementation of robust and adaptable systems to effectively meet the needs and challenges of the modern workforce AND the market.

Practical issues causing digital friction

One of the most common causes of digital friction is poor user interface design. Cluttered layouts, confusing navigation menus, and overly complex functions all contribute to users’ frustration and interfere with their ability to perform tasks efficiently. In addition, slow loading times, frequent errors, and system crashes can add to their digital friction, causing user dissatisfaction and disinterest.

Another cause of digital friction is a lack of integration between different digital tools and platforms. When users are forced to switch between multiple applications or manually transfer data, it not only disrupts their workflow, but also increases the likelihood of errors and inconsistencies, and this leads to yet more frustration.

Security measures can become another cause of digital friction. While they are essential for protecting sensitive data, they can also cause digital friction if implemented in a cumbersome or intrusive way. Excessive authentication requirements, frequent password changes, and overly restrictive access controls can all hamper user productivity and reduce the overall user experience.

Moreover, the absence of personalization and customization can increase digital friction. Users may feel overwhelmed or disconnected when presented with irrelevant content or recommendations that do not match their preferences or needs, reducing the perceived value of the digital platform or service.

Addressing digital friction requires a holistic approach that includes user-centric design concepts, seamless integration of digital tools, robust security measures, and personalized user experiences.

In our articles on digital transformation, we have addressed various aspects of navigating this transformative journey and provided insights into how to tackle it [4]. In addition, we have also looked at the unique experiences and perspectives of professionals in different areas, such as engineers [15] and salespeople [16], to highlight their role in the digital transformation process. It is important to recognize that digital transformation is not a one-time occurrence, but rather an ongoing process that requires the active involvement of all employees.

With the right system and the right provider, you and your team can identify what’s slowing things down and optimize everything. From finding bottlenecks to improving workflows, communication, customer service and more, the system provides support every step of the way.

Solve 50% of the friction bottlenecks

Systems can help you figure out what employee and digital frictions exist in your company. Better yet, systems are there to solve the bottlenecks that cause these frictions. Remember, systems were created to provide structure, guidelines, and tools to streamline processes, improve communication, and ensure accountability.

After identifying sources of frustration among our employees through methods such as periodic surveys, one-on-one meetings and data gathering, the next step is to implement a system that can effectively address these issues. Systems provide significant opportunities to address and resolve employee friction by enabling streamlined processes, improving communication channels, promoting transparency, and fostering a supportive work environment. By leveraging the capabilities of such systems, we can proactively address employee concerns and create a more positive and productive work culture.

Let’s look at the essential components that a robust and flexible system should cover.

A robust and flexible system

Process automation – A robust and flexible system should be able to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks, thereby reducing the likelihood of errors and providing employees more time for more meaningful work. By automating processes, systems can minimize any frustration caused by manual work and improve overall efficiency.

Task management tools – Task management systems are invaluable to employees. They enable them to prioritize tasks, monitor progress, and collaborate with team members more seamlessly. Providing clear visibility of tasks and deadlines, such systems minimize misunderstandings, reduce bottlenecks and ultimately increase productivity within your company.

Communication platforms – Tools such as chat applications, intranet portals, and project management platforms act as vital communication channels that allow employees to communicate with each other effortlessly, regardless of their geographical location or time zone. Improved communication not only facilitates conflict resolution and clarification of expectations but also cultivates a spirit of teamwork and collaboration among team members and between departments.

Transparency and accountability – A system that provides transparency in the business processes, decision-making, and resource allocation plays a crucial role in fostering employee trust. By providing insight into the reasoning behind decisions and visibility of the impact of individual contributions on the company, these systems increase employee engagement and foster a sense of value and appreciation within the workforce.

Culture of continuous improvement – The system you implement has significant potential in cultivating a culture of continuous improvement within your company. By implementing a system that works with iterative processes and encourages innovation and problem-solving, you empower your employees to contribute ideas, participate in improvement initiatives, and track progress over time. These tools not only enhance the skills and capabilities of your workforce but also contribute to their overall satisfaction and happiness within your company.

Training and development platforms -Learning management systems (LMS) and training platforms are invaluable in providing employees with access to training materials, courses, and resources to expand their skills and knowledge. By investing in employee development through these kinds of platforms, you can increase job satisfaction, reduce employee turnover, and effectively reduce friction caused by competency gaps within your workforce.

Explore software solutions that go beyond simply identifying bottlenecks but also provide both flexibility and scalability. These tools are designed to evolve with your company and provide invaluable insights into inefficient workflows. They are easily customizable and extensible, allowing for seamless integration into your existing processes. In addition, on top of that, their user-friendly interface will make adopting and using the systems simple and easy.

Systems leadership

You might be wondering how systems leadership fits into all of this. Well, systems leadership is like having a GPS for navigating the complexities of modern business.

As a manager, you know that the challenges you face are not just isolated problems – they are part of larger, interconnected systems. Systems leadership is all about the skills to understand and effectively navigate these complex systems. System leaders work together across boundaries, bringing together different perspectives and expertise to achieve common goals. By using systems leadership, you can tackle complex challenges head-on, drive innovation, and foster a culture of continuous improvement.

All the above supports systems leadership. As a systems leader, you have a deep understanding of the complexity of the systems within which you operate, including the relationships and interdependencies between different teams, departments, and stakeholders. A system leader takes a holistic perspective and considers the wider context and long-term implications of decisions and actions. Addressing the complex challenges requires collaboration between different departments, teams, and stakeholders. You are flexible and highly capable of responding to changing circumstances and dealing effectively with uncertainties.

Systems leadership prioritizes the alignment of organizational goals, core values and operational activities and nurtures a shared sense of purpose and meaning among employees and stakeholders. You actively involve employees in the decision-making process by inviting them to participate in it, creating a culture of ownership and accountability for the results. Moreover, system leaders demonstrate a relentless commitment to continuous personal development and encourage system improvements, promoting a culture of continuous learning and improvement throughout the company.

By focusing on systemic change and addressing underlying issues, systems leadership promotes sustainable solutions with lasting impact rather than short-term solutions, ensuring that your business is resilient to shocks and disruptions.

Systems leadership transcends the traditional paradigms of team and product management. It involves understanding and shaping the larger systems in which your company operates, fostering positive transformation, and ensuring continued success.

Systems Leadership vs Conventional Leadership

Source: Medium – What is System Leadership (Resources: article-19)

Conventional Leadership revolves around an individual-focused approach, where the primary scope lies within the confines of the individual and the company. The driving force behind conventional leadership is the pursuit of company performance and tangible results. This leadership style functions by empowering individuals within the organization and striving to enhance overall team performance.

Intervention within conventional leadership typically involves problem-solving, with a focus on addressing immediate or short-term issues that arise. This leadership style often operates within contexts characterized by complicated situations, where problems have clear and discernible solutions, rather than dealing with the nuanced complexities present in certain environments.

System leadership, on the other hand, takes a collective approach, recognizing the interconnectedness of different systems inside and outside companies. The aim is for sustainable transformation and long-term impact. In this paradigm, the focus shifts to facilitating broader system transformation rather than just optimizing within the confines of teams and organizations.

Systems leadership emphasizes the importance of co-creating sustainable futures and engaging stakeholders from different departments and customers to address complex challenges. It works within contexts that are characterized by complexity, recognizing the intricate interplay of multiple factors and the need for systemic solutions that take into account different perspectives and long-term consequences.

Spire eX Digital Transformation Program

Spire eX offers more than just a software solution; it serves as a comprehensive customized digital transformation programme to guide companies, their leaders and employees through every stage of their digital journey. With a focus on embracing the principles of systems leadership, Spire eX ensures a seamless and logical progression through each company’s unique digital transformation process.

The goal is to make digital transformation easy, and the Spire system supports you as a system leader to navigate through the complexity of your business processes.

Implementation of Spire eX

At the start of this article, we mentioned that systems leadership is like being a captain on a ship in the ocean and the need to focus on the big picture, understanding how different parts of a complex system fit together and how they can work with others to navigate toward shared goals. Spire eX is offering exactly that. Here is a short explanation of the implementation of Spire eX.

Delivery of Spire Essentials [Phase-1 Delivery], including testing in the playground, the delivery of fundamental components: secure login, an agile planning board, the MyTask To-Do App, CRM and HRM modules, as well as FaceBook and Team Chat for operational communication.

Once you are satisfied with the basic system and after thorough playground testing, we move on to the next phase – Data Migration [Phase-2 Data Migration]. Your data is migrated seamlessly into your Spire Essentials, your system, and the migrated data will be thoroughly tested by your team to ensure a smooth integration.

After completing the initial phases, we work together to determine your specific needs. Your workflows are optimized through sector-specific packages and/or customized building blocks tailored to your needs [Phase-3 Implementation].

In the subsequent phases (Phase 4-5 Evolution and Revolution), we continue our innovation efforts and continuously explore new opportunities for you and the growth of your business. For example, with offerings such as SpireConnect, alongside other IT solutions or Spire AI tools, seamless integration into your Spire system is facilitated. This system embodies true system leadership and enables the integration of tools from other IT suppliers into the Spire System. It is an open, non-siloed ecosystem, promoting collaboration and agility to meet changing needs.

Through all these phases all users receive comprehensive and role-specific training, encouraging a new way of thinking and working. As a result, Spire eX enables any company to unlock new possibilities and the ability to fully embrace creativity and cultivate inspiration.

Systems Leadership and Digital Transformation

Now that we understand what is needed, let’s talk about implementation. It is crucial to ensure employee engagement, adaptability in our system, and sustainable productivity and profits. Combining Systems Leadership and digital transformation is a powerful approach to achieving these goals and fostering a happy working environment for all involved.

With Systems Leadership, we focus on understanding the interconnectedness of different aspects within our organization. This means we foster collaboration, empower employees, and encourage a shared vision and values. By using the principles of Systems Leadership, we can keep our staff engaged and motivated so that everyone feels valued and has a stake in the company’s success.

At the same time, implementing digital transformation initiatives enables us to adapt to changing environments and improve efficiency. From automating repetitive tasks to using data analytics for informed decision-making, digital transformation can streamline processes and improve overall productivity. Moreover, embracing digital tools and technologies can also improve communication and collaboration among team members, further increasing engagement and satisfaction.

By integrating Systems Leadership with digital transformation, we can create a dynamic and flexible organizational culture that thrives in today’s fast-paced business landscape. This approach not only promotes employee satisfaction and retention but also ensures sustainable productivity and long-term business profitability.

Contact us

We invite you to contact us or explore our website for more information, detailed resources, and insightful case studies. Our mission is to help companies reach their full potential and create environments where both businesses and individuals thrive. Schedule a free appointment with one of our team members today. Don’t hesitate to get in touch – we are passionate about our work and we are dedicated to helping you find the same passion in your work.

Additional Resources on systems leadership and digital transformation

Here are some resources that provide you with more insights and clarity on employee friction, morale, Agile working, and Systems Leadership:

[1] Medium – Who’s to Blame? 94% Chance It’s a System Failure, Not You

[2] Near – Low Employee Morale: Top 5 Signs and How You Can Boost It

[3] Champion Health – 30 Employee morale statistics for 2023 to show how teams really feel
[4] How to tackle digital transformation? A roadmap for change and optimisation of business systems

[5] Disastrous Inefficiency: Departments drown in procedural chaos & systems


[7] Shiftbase – Job Dissatisfaction: Unmasking the Silent Productivity Killer

[8] Harvard Business Review – Today’s Most Critical Workplace Challenges Are About Systems

[9] Ridiculous: your company is having to conform to your software system

[10] Sand in the wheels: Nothing is more frustrating than jammed systems and business processes!

[11] Software Chaos: when systems fail, users suffer

[12] Digital friction is now part of everyday working life

[13] FOUNT Research Reveals Massive Gap Between Employees’ and Business Leaders’ Perception of Work Friction

[14] How integrated business processes reduce the risk of churning customers

[15] Sales Efficiency – a systematic approach to sales growth

Some articles about Agile Working/Thinking/Leadership

[16] Agile Service Management: not a hype, but imperative for success!

[17] Agile Thinking: the secret weapon that (hardly) anyone knows about

[18] New Leadership: getting your staff involved in the ‘new’ way of thinking and working

[19] Medium: What is Systems Leadership?

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