Another problem is presented. A worker gets injured on a subcontractor’s job. We gather around the table dish out the blame. Everyone wants to point fingers. The operations manager blames inadequate funding while the safety engineer cites an inadequate preplanning process. Nothing gets resolved. The issue rackets up for a senior management decision. There’s a meeting to discuss the matter. Someone leads out and says what can be done to prevent this problem.
Numerous technical recommendations are offered. Standing up, I state, “Why don’t we ask the workers about this problem? Let’s get them involved so that they can help find the solution.” The room gets quiet. Finally, one senior manager suggests that we should take money away from the subcontractor, buy new technology, and fire the worker’s supervisor. Everyone agrees. After dealing with this same problem every month, I was hoping for a different answer. I was disappointed again.
Why do we see managers make the same mistakes over and over and never want the day-to-day workers involved in the process? Executives are then shocked when their employees don’t buy-in on their latest management initiative. One of the reasons organizations do not reach peak performance is because managers do not create socio-technical systems to support organizational values. We will discuss the concept of building socio-technical systems in global markets.
With fierce global competition and a need for a market advantage, I found it surprising that managers move toward the quick fixes like downsizing for short-term gain without analyzing the organization over the long-term. I am not suggesting that this approach is easy; however, I am declaring that over the long haul an organization will be a stronger institution in the process. First, the concept of a socio-technical system is defined by the interdependence of humans and machines that operate in harmonious fashion. Eric Trist (1909-1993), a renowned researcher, is considered the architect of socio-technical systems. Being of British origin, he was the leading authority in organizational development. His research engaged the workers as one of the critical components to successful operations in high performance organizations.
Researcher William Fox maintains that socio-technical systems effectively blend both the technical and social systems of an organization: “These two aspects must be considered interdependently, because arrangements that are optimal for one may not be optimal for the other and trade-offs are often required. Thus, for effective organization design, there is need for both dual focus and joint optimization.” Therefore, an environment is created where these working parts can co-exist in this industrial system.
Since the industrial age, researchers have recognized that both technical and social factors impact organizational performance. Daniel Wren, author of The Evolution of Management Thought, concludes that analyzing a social system gives management an avenue to measure conflict between the “logic of efficiency” demanded by the formal organization and the “logic by sentiments” by the informal organization. In profit hunting, many businesses lose focus of the importance of socio-technical systems. Given these precepts, the questions for most managers become how to use this scholarly perspective in the practitioner’s avenue where time is money and money is time.
For next few weeks, we will discuss three practical applications so that socio-technical systems within organizations can support organizational values. These critical supporting mechanisms include a) value modeling, b) technology relevancy, and c) human factor buy-in. I pray that emerging leaders will understand the implications of this concept with America’s fight to compete in global markets.
How can today’s organizations implement the concept of socio-technical systems, thereby overcoming institutional barriers?
© 2010 by Daryl D. Green