Thursday, April 10, 2014

Leading and Achieving Organizational Transformation (Part 4/4): Systems Perspective

(Part 4 of a 4 part series on leading and achieving organizational transformation)

In the previous parts of this series, organizational transformation was described as one of the most challenging tasks for a leader to undertake.  In order to accomplish this endeavor, it was discussed that organizational leaders must focus on specific efforts that together create the required drive and effectiveness at every level of the workforce.  These efforts are: 
1) strong communication utilizing frames (Part 1)
2) creating a shared vision (Part 2)
3) leveraging high-performing teams (Part 3)
4) shifting to a systems perspective (Part 4)

This series now concludes with an argument for why shifting to a systems perspective is valuable and why it is an important part of organizational transformation.

Systems Perspective

Shifting to a systems perspective is important because it provides the understanding that no one part of the organization stands alone by itself, thus emphasizing the need to work cooperatively with other parts of the organization as well as factor in customer and cross-organizational considerations.  Thinking in terms of systems is a critical step in the maturity of solution proposals that come from the lowest levels of an organization.  If the workforce that is involved in the most “tactical” level operations can understand their role and the roles of the other personnel in their department, on their team, of their leadership, and of partner organizations, then the ideas and proposals generated from this portion of the workforce is significantly more valuable to leadership than it would be otherwise without the perspective of the whole system.  By developing a holistic understanding of the entirety of the system, the more serious issues, which have a propensity to also be the more costly issues, can be identified.  This is constructive because it ensures that root problems, instead of superficial problems, are addressed, which is especially useful when solving root problems is able to eliminate the multitude of superficial problems they create.

Organizational transformation requires that every part of the organization take ownership of the issues facing the organization.  A systems perspective helps this transformation step because it allows each part of the organization to work with a unity of effort to solve what are the organization’s problems, instead of what previously might be described as a divisional or departmental problem.  The systems perspective also provides clearer justification for organizational change, which in turn enhances the motivation to solve these problems.  This justification, instead of surprise or malaise, is one of the most important steps to getting transformation initiatives off the ground and moving in a forward direction1.  Organizational transformation is not about putting out small fires in an organization.  It is about fundamentally changing the culture of an organization and the behaviors of the workforce2.  A systems perspective is not needed to understand what the crises du jour is, but it is required if you are trying to tackle the cause behind why these crisis exist in the first place.  Using a systems perspective in this way will drastically increase the speed in which a transformation will be able to take place (although it still will remain a long process) by reducing the distractions that drag the focus away from the core issues affecting the organization.


Organizational transformation is a complex undertaking that requires steady, focused effort in strong communication utilizing frames, creating a shared vision, leveraging high-performing teams, and shifting to a systems perspective.  In the attempt to make significant changes to an organization that will permeate through and affect all aspects of the people and processes that make it operate, it must be well understood by all involved why the transformation in taking place, what it will accomplish, and who will lead and craft the forthcoming changes.  The specific lines of effort described previously provide a structure which senior leadership can use to answer these questions and execute the transformation.  This structure allows them to articulate a substantive and convincing argument for a vision that meets the needs of all of the various parts of the organization as well as the organization as a whole by utilizing specialized teams designed to plan and institute transformation in such a way that the entire system: the organization, it’s processes, it’s customers, and it’s inter-organizational relationships are all fundamentally changed in order to increase organizational effectiveness and efficiency.  Organizational transformation is not without it’s challenges, but focus on the efforts described above can ensure that the organization moves forward with the focus and unity required to ensure the end result places the organization in a much more advantageous position for the long term.

1 Sanda, M. (2011). Leadership and 'tipping' in workplace transformation: A critical review. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 2(5).
2 Muller, H. (2011). The transformational CIO: Leadership and innovation strategies for IT executives in a rapidly changing world. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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