A “Complex and Adaptive” System


In any business, human capital is the underlying current of activity and success.  There are many challenges as organizations grow and shrink, and make decisions on the best way to proceed into the unknown as they change and develop.  An article that giving an interesting perspective on this was published in the professional journal Performance Improvement in March of 2010, titled “An Enlightened Look at a System View.”  The authors, Rosenzweig and Lochridge, look at how organizations must reassess what they are doing today and empower employees to make proper decisions and take the business into the future through an entrepreneurial spirit.

In the current turbulent environment, organizations are forced to find new ways of doing things, engage employees, offer better service, perform faster and more agile, and use the human capital that they have in multiple and diverse ways and roles.  With these thoughts in mind, the old way of doing things needs revisiting and reevaluation for effectiveness.  The old ways of thinking need challenging.  Does what worked even five years ago still stand true today, or is an entire re-vamp necessary?  For many on the “front-lines” of organizations, this is a no-brainer question.  As the saying goes, “what got us here will not (necessarily) get us there”.  In other words, some things are reusable, but many components can definitely benefit from change and evolution.

One such area involves viewing the business as a system, and understanding it as being complex with many moving parts.  This means understanding that, as Rosenzweig and Lochridge (2010) put it, “we need to acknowledge that some problems have a tipping point where the ability [to affect change] with a small team to affect change on a system becomes impossible.  There are too many moving parts, and too many emerging issues.  In these instance, the system must be viewed as being not just complex but as a complex adaptive system.”

So, what does a “complex adaptive” system mean?  It means there is a constant input of new data and changes to the system needing the ability to make decisions quickly and dynamically.  Further, these decisions are not necessarily by the leaders and senior leaders, but are by the human capital directly involved.  Although there is a structure of “plans, processes, and strategies” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010) agreed upon and slated as the guiding directives, the understanding is they are simply a guide on the path as changes constantly happen.  This agility and trust in the decision-making process creates engagement from those involved, and helps to create ownership of the business and decisions.  Everyone strives to do their best in contributing to the “larger purpose [of] what is needed to accomplish the tasks at hand, as well as the end goal.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge)

The organization has a mission, vision, values, strategy, etc.  The ability and desire of the individuals in support of those components is what makes them truly work.  One way that many organizations today are working in support of this is to work “less [toward] managing the people and more [toward] engaging them.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010)  This includes creating an environment where the individuals are more responsible for self, and find their own way to give 110% in support of the team, the organization, the business, and the customers every day.  It also includes running the business as a network, much in the way the Internet does, where everyone “[connects] to each other in an organic way.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010) While this environment is often in small, entrepreneurial organizations, now a movement is gaining strength to keep this type of thinking and behavior alive and well within those organizations that have moved out of that category.  Instead of it being about a stage in an organizations life, it is a combination of mindset and actions, empowering and engaging each employee as an owner and creator of the business.

The face of business today is in many ways very different from how it was 50, 20, or even 5 years ago.  The expectations of customers are different and need a completely different approach in many cases.  Problems need more than a canned solution.  Working within regulations and standards is perhaps more strict now than in the last century, and our world is more technologically involved and complex in many ways than ever before, requiring a unique way of thinking and working.  Ensuring that the organization empowers and enables human capital in an organization  to meet the demands of today will differentiate any organization and place them in position to grow, change, and evolve to keep pace with what comes for tomorrow.

References

Rosenzweig, J., & Lochridge, S. (2010). An enlightened look at a system view. Performance Improvement, 49(3), 24-30. doi: 10.1002/pfi

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