Systems Thinking

Organizational theorist and Wharton Professor Emeritus, Russ Ackoff taught that the most flexible part of a system will drive the system.

“Humans are the ONLY organizational subsystem capable of situational awareness and adaptation to a shifting environment. Process and technology (often the focus of change efforts) are inert, and lack the ability to learn and change.”

So, leadership must answer the following:

1. Why do we need to change? One word…survival. GM employees learned the hard way. Borders and Blockbuster are great case examples of the consequences of intransigence in the face of change.

2. Why will change be different this time?

3. Do I have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do what I am being asked to do?

4. Finally, what is in it for me?

In the absence of a cohesive and mutual purpose, each element of the system will operate in its own best interest. When that occurs the system is degrades, and becomes prone to irrelevance or even consumption (think of the current state of the economy).

The key to success is the inclusion, engagement, and emotional management of employees that are responsible for executing change. Failure to do so will only result in stubborn employees and diminished competitiveness.

Ackoff states, “Darwin educated us on the three struggles of species – with the environment, with other species, and with our own species. What he could not have envisioned at the time is the nefarious and often deadly struggle within. It is the latter that will doom an organization.”