Philosophy vs System

By August 29, 2014 No Comments


Imagine you’re starting a business or taking over an athletic program. It’s your opportunity to do things your way and make it “your own.” In athletics and business what is more important, the philosophy or the system? If you’re beginning your tenure as the leader of a program what should you immediately focus on? This week we’ll discuss why philosophy is always more important than system.

A philosophy contains particular methods, a way of life, values, and most importantly culture. When looking at program goals the philosophy is the “foundation” established in order to reach those goals. A system is essentially the playbook that gets you there. Think of the philosophy as the road map and the system as the method of transportation. It does no good to drive aimlessly without having a destination in mind.

The difference between the two is that the philosophy should rarely change, while the system must constantly change and evolve. The philosophy contains the standards and values that endure in the program over time. The system must evolve with the changing personnel. Examples of the overall program philosophy would include treating people right, having a people first mindset, developing a team concept, acting as first class individuals, developing priorities, teaching tolerance, and implementing a character education program. An example of the system would focus on what type press and half-court defense to run. It would also include things like out-of-bounds plays, and what particular offensive system is being used.

I believe a sound philosophy is essential for any successful program or business. Whether it’s sports or business, the same holds true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Any successful organization knows this to be true, and makes it a point to have a people first mindset. Once you have the philosophy in place you then can begin implementing the systems you wish to run. However, if you begin putting in the systems before the philosophy is developed and communicated, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Coaches and business leaders should constantly discuss their philosophy with their players and employees. It goes without saying that if no collective buy-in exists, the organization will not achieve all it’s capable of. Coaches can use film and game situations to reinforce the philosophy. Business leaders can use real world examples. Whatever it is, the players and employees must know “why” something needs to be done a particular way. Telling them, “Because I said so” doesn’t cut it and it will turn people away. Leaders should always be transparent with their goals, expectations, and philosophy.

Too often we see leaders solely focus on the systems because it’s often where most of the credit is given. We look at sports teams and see how successful their offense or defense is and want to emulate this at the lower levels. This has caused a major problem in youth sports because too many coaches teach plays and don’t develop players. Too many coaches want the credit that comes with winning big rather than having a philosophy of teaching more than the game. I read and hear about too many young business professionals changing careers because they are tired and frustrated with management. Most of that frustration comes from not clearly knowing what is expected. People get frustrated and quit when there is zero communication. Having a sound philosophy ensures clear communication exists.

If a clear philosophy is in place it doesn’t matter what type of systems are in place. The philosophy drives the ship, without it there is no direction. No matter what line of work you’re in, always remember to develop, implement, review, and constantly discuss your organizations philosophy.

As always, thanks for reading, have a great week, and be an RGP today!