This may surprise you, but when I say "First-Rate Systems", I'm not
talking about computers. When you think about it, a company is simply
"the way a group of people does things". The restaurant down the
street is just a group of people making burgers and hot dogs in a
delicious and unusual way. Apple is a group of people designing,
building, pricing, and selling their wares.
systems are well defined in manuals, training, and software. Sometimes
the systems are ad-hoc for better or worse. As consumers, we love to
complain about bad systems which usually manifest themselves as the
combination of a stupid policy and an inflexible customer service rep.
We also love great systems, but we rarely notice them as such.
Instead, we like shopping at certain stores or eating at certain
restaurants or using certain services.
If you're starting a
company, you need to give serious thought to your systems. You can
typically get away with a blanket statement of, "Make the customer
happy" and then refine over time. If you're joining a company,
experience your new employer as a customer while you're still new and
systems failures will stand out . . . hopefully so that you can fix
The above may sound obvious and/or a regurgitation of the
standard "Be outstanding!" marketing advice you see spouted constantly,
but it's all a lead up to the main point of this post:
you find a second-rate system that the company won't fix, you know that
you're not dealing with a first-rate company and you need to stop
treating them as such.
Not everyone has the fortitude to be
great. Arguably, most settle for "good enough". That's why you end up
with the dry cleaner that smashes your buttons and doesn't notice
before you do. That's why you have the recruiting company that
requires you to enter time in the client's accounting system and
their own system even though they literally employee 1,000 people who
are qualified to build the integration between the two. That's why you
As you might imagine, I'm particularly attuned to
(and offended by) bad systems since I spend my days getting paid well
to help clients build software to support great systems. These systems
are typically great before the software ever exists, they're simply
executed through brute force and the client wants to replace that human
effort with software so that people can get back to work. The
important aspect is the commitment for the system to be great – that's
what leads to a first-rate company. You'll save yourself a lot of
headaches if you learn to identify second-rate companies and accept
them as such (or move on to a first-rate replacement) and if you see
yourself as first-rate then make sure your company is as well.