Systems Approach Essay
In the 1956 edition of Modern Systems Research for the Behavioral Scientist, A. D. Hall and R. E. Fagen define “a system as a set of objects together with relations between the objects and between their attributes”. (Scholtes, Peter R. 1998, 42)
The system concept has been taken from the exact sciences, specifically from physics, where exact laws lead to exact measurements. Though, the methods of the exact sciences are of little or no use for the social sciences, since these often deal with more composite and multidimensional systems.
A system is a whole that contains two or more parts that satisfy the following five conditions.
- The whole has one or more defining functions.
- Each part in the set can affect the behavior or properties of the whole.
- There is a subset of parts that is sufficient in one or more environments for carrying out the defining function of the whole; each of these parts is separately necessary but insufficient for carrying out this defining function.
- The way that the behavior or properties of each part of a system affects its behavior or properties depends on the behavior or properties of at least one other part of the system.
- The effect of any subset of parts on the system as a whole depends on the behavior of at least one other subset.
In systems theory, organizations are viewed as open or socio-technical systems which trade with their environment. They import information, material, and energies, do something with or to them, and export them to an added system. The benefit of the systems approach is that it reveals organizations as social institutions which in some way or other beat the second law of thermodynamics, by which the amount of entropy (or disorganization) in the system is said to tend to exploit. Organizations achieve effectiveness by reducing entropy or disorganization. While information is received, uncertainty is reduced. Information can be considered by the amount of surprise it induces in the receiver, and organizations assist to bring the degree of surprise under control. Systems principles are based in part on the following concepts:
The whole is more than the sum of its parts. A related principle is synergy, or the effectiveness of joint action.
- Organizations are goal seeking.
- The cybernetic ideas of feedback and balance affect system operation.
- Systems are arranged hierarchically.
- A system can attain the same state from a variety of beginning states—the principle of equifinality: ‘‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat.’’
Certo, S.C. (1998)
In systems theory, organizations are seen as systems of information flows as sets of black (unknown-content) boxes linked by a series of inputs, transformations, and outputs. Information is the organizational currency, and it has to be searched for, bought, processed, and sold to some other system. The modern executive is a serial processor of information who needs to bring sensory data concerning the environment down to an optimal level where it can be handled. While the executive suffers overload or is placed in an environment of sensory deficit, bizarre behavior may result.
The most remarkable success of systems organization was the Apollo Project to put a man on the moon. This effort utilized project management, defined as ‘‘doing what we say we are going to do.’’ The conventional loyalties of the NASA people and the technicians from the aerospace firms broke down as the task became the focal point of their lives. The systems approach has spread to other industries, assisted by the widespread use of computers, which make information a key to raw material. (DeGuess, A. 1997)
The systems approach focuses instead on organization systems. It asserts that if employees can develop these systems, most work-related employee problems will disappear without individual counseling.
In addition to conceptual weaknesses, there are also staid process related weaknesses in quality improvement processes (QIP) s that stress the training phase and overlook others, especially the vehicle emplacement phase. For one thing, such efforts are typically top-down. Professional trainers, following the lead of those who organized the adaptation phase, begin by training upper and middle-level managers, who, in turn, are supposed to train lower-level managers as well as hourly workers with the support of the professionals.
But there is a decisive difference between the familiarization phase and the training phase. While the up-front portion of the former can be offered to large audiences and completed in numerous weeks, the latter, when dealing with a company of any size, ultimately involves running several thousand students through efficient two- to three-day sessions. Such an effort is particularly drawn out so that by the time that everyone is trained, many of the earlier students have lost their enthusiasm, their workshop notebooks, or both.
At the same time, such training is rarely if ever sufficient Learning a technique in the classroom, even practicing it there, never gives students all the answers or prepares them fully for the real-life situation. A remarkable amount of support, therefore, is necessary when those primarily trained begin passing down their new knowledge and skills to lower-level managers and hourly workers. Such support, however, is rarely accessible. The corporate quality staff and consultants can visit just so many work sites during the year and can answer just so many phone calls (Depree, M. 1997).
Basically, systems approach is a theoretical tool used to organize and marshal resources (technologies, material, and workers) to get work done with optimal efficiency and to achieve a master purpose that meets precise standards.
The systems approach is often identified with efficiency. Because the systems approach is as much apprehensive with effectiveness as it is with efficiency, this is a mistake. Either efficiency or effectiveness can be pursued to the harm of the other in an intensely competitive market. However, efficiency gets special attention because of a prevailing doubt most things are not being done as well as they could be, and are, in fact, being mismanaged.
If there was a will, it is believed, there would be a means to reduce costs. This belief is held especially for tax-supported public services. Though it may be true that one or another action could be run more efficiently, that is not the point. The point is whether the larger system, of which the activity is a part, can be run more competently and still deliver the product or service intended. And that is an issue of optimization.
A systems approach helps managers to channel vision, gives way, provides a basis for organizing resources and measuring performance, and it assists to allocate work so the purpose can be attained according to specified standards within a set time frame. In short, it unifies and focuses effort. We now continue to a discussion of the limitations of the systems approach.
The systems approach is necessary for effective decision making, for the utilization of models in outer factor, and for the application of computer technology. Systems analysis is a managerial get through, somewhat akin to breakthroughs in various sciences, and has given rise to influential concepts and tools of analysis.
The systems approach is based on the work of Von Bertalanffy, who is accredited with coining the phrase “general systems theory.” (Pearson, C.S. 1998) He conceived of a set of objects, their interrelationships, and their characteristics as systems. The objects were merely components of a system. Therefore, any groups of exterior activities and elements that can be delineated physically or abstractly constitute a system.
Moreover, it also assists in marketing systems that are collections of entities that form coherent groups. Channels of distribution that manage the activities of wholesalers, retailers, and manufacturers, or physical distribution activities resulting from the integration of warehousing, storage, transportation, handling, and inventory activities, are examples of marketing systems. The actuality that entities or activities are capable of being understood as a rational group, rather than as a collection of parts, makes them a system. This conceptual insight has led to the development of new disciplines such as industrial dynamics and systems engineering.
In marketing, the systems approach turns on the inner theme that marketing reality occurs in systems. A business, part of it, or its connection with others, can be signified by some suitable system that may culminate in a physical facsimile, chart, flow diagram, and series of equations, replication model, or just a concept.
The survival and growth of systems is mainly determined by the efficiency of flows and communications. External factors of systems contain “flows” of products, services, finances, and equipment through channels and communications to and from marketplace. Two units of action of a marketing system have been illustrates as “transaction” and “transvection.” Transaction focuses on negotiations and exchange. Transvection represents a unit of action of the complete marketing system, manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers — the matching of original producers with ultimate consumers (Denhardt, R.B., 2000).
The systems approach employs one type of model — a systems model. This model recognizes a total marketing system that should be supported and reinforced so that the company can survive, adjust, change, and function professionally. While stressing coordination, it also distinguishes conflict and competition among units, the necessity for subsystem concessions, and the fact that resources should be used to maintain the system itself as well as to attain goals.
Managers have the major accountability of recognizing the relations among the elements of the systems. They must understand their potential combinations, and organize and integrate business factors so that goals are achieved effectively (Joseph O’Connor, Ian McDermott 1997). Significantly the adoption of a systems perspective depends on the individual manager and his discernment of the factors of variability in the system, the relations of inputs, and the predictions of outputs resulting from the inputs.
The improvement of cohesive groups, however, does not mean that all conflicts are eradicated or that the objectives of all mechanism of the system coincide. For example, although manufacturers, retailers, and wholesalers compose a system, their objectives. May conflict in part. However, it is the extent to which objectives are common that lends cohesiveness to systems components. This cohesiveness is more enthusiastically achieved among different functions within a firm than among firms. As firms become conglomerates of companies, this peculiarity tends to disappear. Although the systems-perspective direction tends to prevent sub optimization, it does not preclude the analysis of subsystems. Since management cannot investigate everything at the same time, it must digest smaller pieces.
Three basic types of equilibrating systems have been described, the atomistic, the organic whole, and the in-between limply coupled systems. In the atomistic system there is a tendency toward equilibrium amongst separate elements. The organic whole is a system with structured components joined together in a completely determined and inflexible pattern. They adapt to the environment by changing objectives, technologies, manpower, and organizational arrangements.
Systems theory facilitates the conceptual uncoupling and comprehensive analysis of components of a whole system as well as the investigation of the behavior of the total system based on an analysis of pertinent variables.
Moreover, Modern person-job match technology involves a diversity of disciplines to bring together the right kinds of information for personnel assignment decisions. A systems approach is desired to integrate the assignment process within the organization. The traditional static job assignment problem does not exist in practice. Within organizations there is the requirement for dynamic systems that respond quickly to changing personnel demands, supplies, costs, and objectives (Denhardt, R.B., 2000).
The modules of a personnel management system: projection of personnel requirements; forecasting the supply of candidates; planning, including the establishment of selection standards; making individual selection and job assignment decisions; and evaluating organization performance and alternative policies and procedures.
The objective remains the same as in the original problem: to compare candidates against job requirements so that the “best” decisions can be made. The systems approach extends this process to include not only this decision but the determination of requirements and supply and execution and evaluation of the decision. While not all aspects of the system are equally important for all organizations, they are usually present and should be considered by the developer and implementer of person-job matching systems.
Determination of requirements is the essential first step in personnel planning. Personnel requirements are specified in terms of the numbers and types of positions that are associated with plans for the organization’s size and structure. These in turn are based, at least in principle, on projections of the requirements/demand for the organization’s output of products or services (M. A. Hersh., 1998).
For organizations in both the public and private sectors, these projections are made with considerable complexity and uncertainty, since they must be embedded in assumptions relating to the environment in which the organization will function. However, in spite of the difficulty and uncertainty, these projections serve a key function in providing the basis for the person-job matching method.
Moreover, a systems approach also helps managers to manufacturing suggests a systems approach to compensation — that is, compensation practices that support the smooth and continuous operation of the system. This possibly means reducing distinctions between manual and white-collar workers, in particular elevating manual workers to salaried status. Incentive systems, if they are essential, should be indirect and broadly based, covering at least the work group and perhaps the entire operation. Some type of gain sharing emphasizing up-time objectives seems most suitable.
Thus, systems approach proposed the concept of semi-autonomous work groups based on the underlying assumption that learning and the development of social and occupational competences largely occur in cooperation and communication with others. In addition, industrial production does not provide itself well to the improved design of individual jobs, since most tasks are highly interdependent. The group thus is often the “natural” work unit. Optimal functioning of open, incessantly changing systems is seen as predicated on the extent to which the resources and competences for controlling the work of different organizational units are returned to the members of that unit.
The principle of motivation through task orientation rather than external control is improved in relatively independent organizational units that permit increased scope for self regulation of work groups. Acknowledging that individuals are guided by varying goals and motivations, work has to be organized in a way that allows different individuals to satisfy varying needs and to develop new goals and aspirations. And rather than enriching jobs in consultation with external experts, employees themselves are to plan and regulate their work activities by means of direct contribution based on the principle of self-design.
This conceptualization of human nature and work leads to forms of work organization aimed at the development of competences by giving work groups the scope and latitude to complete tasks based on their own planning and guided simply by specified deadlines and standards. There is no longer a “one best way” for doing things; rather there is discretion and decision latitude rooted in the identification that different paths might equally well achieve the same goals. The symbol is that of an organism where different organs fulfill different functions but are reliant on each other, and can function appropriately only in relations with all other parts of the organism.
- Ackoff, R.L. 1994. The Democratic Organization. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Certo, S.C. (1998). Modern management: Diversity, quality, ethics, and the global environment. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall.
- DeGuess, A. (1997). The living company: Habits for survival in a turbulent business environment. Boston: Harvard Business School.
- Denhardt, R.B. Theories of Public Organization, 3rd Ed.; Harcourt College Publishers: Orlando, 2000; 16-17, 182-191.
- Depree, M. (1997, April). Attributes of leaders. Executive Excellence, 14 (4,) 8-10.
- Gharajedaghi, Jamshid. 1999. Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity. Woburn, Mass.: Butterworth-Heinemann Publishers.
- Joseph O’Connor, Ian McDermott (1997) The Art of Systems Thinking: Revolutionary Techniques to Transform Your Business and Your Life HarperCollins.
- M. A. Hersh. A systems approach to understanding the causes of instability in nations: a case study, Bucharest, Romania, 1998.
- Pearson, C.S. (1998). Thinking about business differently: Organizational systems and leadership archetypes. Alisa Viejo: InnoVision.
- Scholtes, Peter R. 1998. The Leader’s Handbook. New York: McGraw-Hill.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 20 March 2017
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