Recently I’ve written a lot about systems and processes. I love a good system and I’m always looking for a tool or trick that makes me better by taking myself out of the equation. However, I’ve learned that there’s another side of the coin when it comes to systems. There are some things to be aware of and I’ll start with this little idea.

You have systematically thought through a problem.

You created a system to take into account all the variables.

You have a process that efficiently does what you created it to do.

Whatever you do:

Don’t ignore your system!

Don’t sidestep your system!

Don’t show someone preferential treatment and bypass what you’ve set up!

Just a few weeks ago, my wife ate something and had an allergic reaction. She quickly got in her car and headed to the family medical center. It was near closing time and she arrived just minutes before they locked the door. She came to the person at the front desk and expressed her concern that she might need treatment for her reaction as her throat was swelling. The guy at the front desk panicked a little and bypassed signing her in and quickly put her in a room to await a doctor. Thirty minutes later, an employee walked in on the room and was surprised to see my wife. No one knew she was there. Fortunately, there was still a doctor available and she was taken care of.

Here’s what happened. They guy at the front desk quickly attended to my wife’s emergency, but in the process he ignored the established system of checking her in. It’s likely that he got distracted by something else and then forgot. He never checked her in and so no one knew that she was there. Fortunately, it was not a serious reaction, otherwise the consequence of this mistake could of been significant.

I’ve seen this play out so many times in our ministry. I remember a time where I watched a person my team knew really well come up to our NextGen booth at a volunteer expo. They had served previously and had been on a break. They asked, “what do I need to do to start serving again?” Someone from my team said, “Nothing, we’ll take care of you!”

At that moment, I predicted what would happen. This volunteer wouldn’t be added to any list and would soon be forgotten. It was about a month later that I remembered and made the connections to get this volunteer plugged in again. We had a system to assimilate people who wanted to volunteer, but we ignored it because we knew the person and it almost cost us in the end.

I tell my staff that systems and processes are there for a reason. They help us not forget. They help us be thorough. They help us do the things we really want to do. When we find ourselves in that situation where we want to personally handle a situation outside of a process, we have to be very careful as we risk dropping the ball. In these situations, we have figure out how to make the process more personal for that person without side-stepping the system. In the case of volunteer we almost didn’t connect, we could have honored the system and still show special treatment. When they asked, “what do I need to do?” we could answer, “Absolutely nothing. See, I’ll take care of you” as you write their name on the sign-up roster that other people usually fill out.

Don’t forget why the system exists. It’s there to help you and make you better. Find ways to mix things up for people, but recognize how you can still honor the system that you can’t live without.