Mapping Out Socio-Technical Systems

human-vs-robot-09

Another problem is presented. A worker gets injured on a subcontractor’s project. We gather around the table to dish out the blame. Everyone wants to point fingers. The project manager blames inadequate funding while the safety engineer cites an ineffective preplanning process. Nothing gets resolved. The issue moves up the line 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.[1] 

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.

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 become a stronger institution in the process. [2]  

The concept of socio-technical systems is very important in a highly competitive environment. Socio-technical systems relate to the reciprocal interrelationship between humans and machines. In fact, the idea explores how both the technical and the social conditions of work interact with efficiency and the human condition.[3]

This interaction satisfies each, but does not compromise the other.  Since the industrial age, researchers have recognized that both technical and social factors impact organizational performance.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOePJH7LYZ4

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.[4]

In profit hunting, many businesses lose focus of the importance of socio-technical systems. Given precepts, the questions for most managers becomes how to use this scholarly perspective in the practitioner’s avenue where time is money and money is time.  In the following weeks, we will address three practical applications (i.e. value modeling, technology relevancy, and human factor buy-in) so that socio-technical systems within organizations can support its organizational values. 

Discuss the concept of socio-technical systems in today’s organizations.

 

© 2013 by Daryl D. Green                                                       

 


[1] “Leading others while supporting organizational values” by Daryl D. Green

[2] “Leading others while supporting organizational values” by Daryl D. Green

[3] “Philosophy of socio-technical systems” by Gunter Ropohl

[4] The Evolution of Management Thought by Daniel Wren

 

Market Turbulence

For many people, the bad economic picture will not change soon enough. According to a USA Today/Gallup Poll, almost three-fourths of those surveyed don’t like what’s going on in the country. David Walker, the former chief of the Government Accountable Office, predicts a poorer America if the economic ship doesn’t change direction: “We’ve kicked the can down the road as far as we can. We are at the abyss.”

Market turbulence has overtaken our ability to realize the American Dream. This turbulence relates to the chaos that now plaques our financial institutions, wrecking havoc on our normalcy. With a weak job growth, many U.S. jobs will continue to be outsourced globally or automated through technology.

In fact, the government estimates that an additional 1.2 manufacturing jobs will disappear by 2018. In this economic downturn, many people are just happy to have a job. Yet, the hectic work environment creates severe consequences to today’s workers as well.  In our discussion, we will focus on market turbulence and how to leverage against it.

Market turbulence is transforming businesses across the globe.  International markets have been shaken.  It’s like riding first class on a cruise ship during a terrible hurricane. You have plenty of the creature comforts.

Yet, it doesn’t change your situation. You are in for a rough ride. Today, American businesses, like other nations, are on this rough ride. The hurricane is market turbulence. Stanley Gryskiewicz, author of Positive Turbulence, stresses the dangers of this rocky ride: “Turbulence is energic, forceful, catalytic, and unpredictable.” 

Many organizations do not understand what to do or how to survive it.  Stan Davis, author of Future Perfect, declares, “The external environment-technology, economy, society and so on—is changing so fast that businesses scurry to keep up. Organizations, however, simply cannot run that fast. So our organizations don’t change as fast as do the businesses that they are managing.”

Charles Handy, author of The Age of Unreason, argues “Discontinuous changes require discontinuous thinking. If the new way of doing things is going to be different from the old, not just an improvement on it, then we shall need to look at everything in a new way.”  Many managers brag about their extensive experience. 

Many managers brag about their extensive experience. However, in a market plagued by uncertainty, this experience works against traditionalists. Today change is rapid and unpredicted.  Loaded with their vast experience, managers can lead organizations into business despair. Given the large degree of uncertainty and unknowns, some organizations continue on the same path…to nowhere!

Innovative managers can leverage market turbulence to their advantage. Everywhere we look we see this disruptive change breaking down traditional thinking.  What worked yesterday, will fail today. The best companies know how to adapt to turbulence. While others downsize and contract their market efforts, great companies infuse their organizations with creativity and expand their operations, competing on their strengths. 

Management strategist Stanley Gryskiewicz argues that turbulence associated with change can be a positive force for innovation.  He recommendations four elements in taking advantage of turbulence, which are (a) difference (breaking out from the status quo, (b) multiple perspectives (inviting divergent viewpoints and nontraditional interpretations, (c) intensity (keeping the speed, volume, and force at an optimal level for change, and (d) receptivity (providing mechanisms for individuals to be able to thrive in turbulence.

Gary Hamel, author of Leading the Revolution, suggests “In the new industrial order, the battle lines don’t run between regions and countries…In a nonlinear world, only nonlinear ideas will create wealth.” Creative expert Michael Michalko argues that creativity:  is the answer for surviving market turbulence: “It is not a result of some easily learned magic trick or secret but a consequence of your intention to be creative and your determination to learn and use creativity.”  Yet, succeeding during market turbulence is no accident. In fact, organizations must be deliberate in creating sustainable performance during market turbulence.

How do organizations effectively implement nonlinear thinking to be successful during market turbulence?

 © 2010 by Daryl D. Green

Human Factor Buy-in

 

Steve Proud gets his biggest promotion as the latest senior executive to run this troubled business. With lots of talent and experience, the organization struggles to meet performance goals. Being on the fast-track, Steve quickly makes significant changes to impress the corporate board. He fires the old managers and surrounds himself with the better talent. His team rolls out a comprehensive strategic plan.

The corporate board starts seeing positive results.  However, things change within two years. Many employees view Steve as a ‘paper manager.’ Despite his ‘talk about empowering workers,’ his actions demonstrate he cares little about any worker’s opinions. Steve cannot understand why his strategy failed.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Most organizations move swiftly ahead reacting to market forces without truly empowering workers to make organizational decisions. Managers preach that employees are a critical asset to an organization’s bottom-line. However, few managers ever show it. Given that percept, we will discuss the final component of effective socio-technical systems. It is the human factor buy-in. Organizations must shift their paradigm to viewing workers as more than mechanical parts for their organizational objectives.

According to a USA Today poll, nearly half of those interviewed said that corporations can be trusted only a little, or not at all, when it involves looking out for the best interest of employees. Michael Hackman and Craig Johnson, authors of Leadership: A Communication Perspective, argue that a leader’s credibility is directly related to the quality of his relationship with followers.

Marios Katsioloudes, a researcher specializing in socio-technical analysis, explains that as profitability of mechanization increases, the importance of technology is implied while there is a devaluation of the workers. Clearly, U.S. businesses cannot point to the lack of employee performance for mismanagement errors.

Japan, a long-time benchmark for American companies, is being defeated by American employees. Today, the average U.S. worker puts in 36 more hours than Japanese workers (1,825 vs. 1,789). Over the last two decades, balancing work and home life have been difficult since Americans have added 200 hours to their annual work schedule.

Employees want to be valued. Felix Harris, a financial director with over 8 years in the banking industry, acknowledges the importance of people in a socio-technical system. He states, “When employees are appreciated, they work harder.  A machine is only as good as its operator.”  Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of The Human Equation, acknowledges that organizational success is directly related to implementation, and this capacity comes from the workers, how they are treated, their skills, and their efforts as it relates to the organization.

Managers should see followers as more than mechanical parts for their organizational objectives. Managers assume that giving employees new technology is enough to keep them happy. Likewise, leaders should view followers as vital components of the socio-technical system.

Today’s managers in technical organizations must understand the delicacy of balancing a socio-technical system. The recent mirage of culture changes such as outsourcing, scandals, and unethical dealings by both governmental and business senior managers have made American employees skeptical about the seriousness of organizations implementing corporate values into their workplace.

Furthermore, today’s executives are falling short in promoting the desired values to support socio-technical systems due to understanding the value of employee buy-in.

In fact, this insight would be valuable to any manager, trying to integrate the man – human interface mechanism. Understanding the uniqueness of the socio-technical system may increase leadership effectiveness and better management strategies for your organization.

How can organizations best gain employee buy-in when they possess less than a stellar track record of worker empowerment?  

 © 2010 by Daryl D. Green

Socio-technical Systems in Global Markets

 

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