Systems Thinking – Management by Doing the Right Thing

To understand change in organisations we must understand what influences people’s behaviour within an organisation and how it does so. Behaviour is conditioned by the information people have, their knowledge of what it is they are to do and the means provided to them to do it. It is also conditioned by the prevailing norms – people know what is expected of them, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Experience shows that there is a myriad of influences on people’s behaviour, but it also shows that some factors have far more influence than others.

To improve our methods of change, therefore, we need to understand more about what actually governs people’s behaviour. When no change occurs, it is the pattern of behaviour that remains unchanged. Deming and Juran demonstrated that people’s behaviour is governed by the system they work in. It was a finding which went against the accepted wisdom of their time and remains outside prevailing management thinking. Yet this is the single, common cause of the failure of programmes of change. When programmes fail it is generally because the attempt was non-systemic. Change in performance requires a change to the system.

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