Connecting Rummler’s Performance Improvement to Leadership

“We spend too much of our time “fixing” people who are not broken, and not enough time fixing organization systems that are broken.”

— Rummler and Brache

This is an excerpt from Section II: Improving Performance with Systemic Thinking in Nine Practices of 21st Century Leadership: A Guide for Inspiring Creativity, Innovation, and Engagement. For this format, some minor editing was necessary.

In a Skillsoft live event, Marquet states that leadership isn’t about doing stuff; leadership is about getting people to think. Complementing this concept, the research findings of McKinsey & Company identify four key behaviors that are typically displayed by high-quality leadership teams and closely correlated with leadership success. The four key behaviors are

  • Solve problems effectively.
  • Seek different perspectives.
  • Operate with a strong results orientation.
  • Be supportive.

Three leadership practices described in my book align to performance-improvement behaviors. The practices involve getting people to think about problems and to use analytical and diagnostic tools.

These practices for 21st Century Leadership are:

  • Analyzing Like Detectives
  • Diagnosing and Treating Like Doctors
  • Finding Key Behaviors Like Social Psychologists

How Foundational Practices Help: Fixing Bad Systems, Ending Unwarranted Blame, and Eliminating Faulty Solutions

In Serious Performance Consultants, Rummler explains why, after several years of practice, he’s still a performance consultant. He explains that, for him, performance consulting is value-added work at two levels:

  1. Many organizations, which Rummler characterizes as having bad systems, need help in becoming more effective.
  2. Rummler writes how upset he becomes when those in charge mistakenly accuse employees of being the source of organizational problems. As a result, organizations waste operational dollars and employee time in addressing symptoms rather than the problematic system.

Rummler explains what he typically experiences:

  1. The bad system sets up employees to fail, and those at the executive and management levels allow this to happen because they are either incompetent or irresponsible in maintaining a safe and productive work environment.
  2. Moreover, when executives and managers become aware that they manage a bad system, no one accepts responsibility for the system’s current state.

Sinek complements Rummler’s perspective: He explains that those in charge do not understand that people aren’t the problem but that the organization’s environment is. If you get the environment right, then everything starts to improve.

21st Century Leadership practices address the problem with bad systems. Whether addressing the micro or the macro level, leadership practices contribute toward improving the performance of teams, departments, business units, and the whole organization.


Feser, Claudio, Fernanda Mayol, and Ramesh Srinivasan. “Decoding leadership: What really matters.” McKinsey Quarterly, 2015. Accessed January 8, 2015.

Marquet, David. Live Event: Turn the Ship Around! How to Create Leadership at Every Level. Skillsoft Books24x7, 2014.$9227:_ss_video:65944. Accessed January 10, 2015.

Rummler, Geary A. Serious Performance Consulting: According to Rummler. San Francisco, CA: Wiley, 2007.

Rummler, Geary A., and Alan P. Brache. Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart, 2nd edn. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1995.

Sinek, Simon. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. New York: Penguin Group, 2014.

About Gary A. DePaul, PhD, CPT

Gary is an authority of how leadership is radically changing in the 21st Century. In his Nine Practices book, Gary summarizes the evolving leadership principles, beliefs, and practices as described by leading authors and experts.

Gary has two forthcoming leadership books:

  1. Crack the Leadership Development Codes: Stories of How Organizations Train Executives and Employees to Lead
  2. Culture Growth: Expand Your Leadership Mindset–Transform Your Culture!

Published by

Gary A. DePaul, PhD, CPT

"I help organizations become more effective at leadership development." Gary A. DePaul is an expert on how leadership is radically changing. He has two decades of experience as a practitioner and scholar of leadership, has worked as a manager in fortune 500 companies, and consults with organizations to improve leadership practices. He completed his Ph.D. and Ed.M. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and a bachelor's degree at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). ISPI has designated him as a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT).