The Manager as a Systems Thinker
Managing an organization is no easy job. There are a lot of factors that should be taken into account—processes, procedures, people, raw materials, and accountabilities among others. Given this complexities, managers tend to view their role as that of the maintenance officer trying to make everything run given the schedule and agreed upon goals within the organization.
The complexities of the management process is even confounded by the difficulties in the communication process brought about by conflicting ideas and personalities of different people, as well as by new trends and issues arising in the society. In this regard, advances in telecommunications and other technologies also pose a challenge to the processes used to be followed by the manager in particular and by the organization in general.
Problems and challenges occur in different areas of the organization in the same way that a machine may break down every now and then. Managers, however, in fixing these problematic areas, tend to focus only on the particular area where the problem occurred. The other extreme position is to focus on the big picture too much without going down to the level of the details and trying to understand what made such an area malfunction (Reed, 2006).
The whole picture, however, is more than just the sum of the individual parts. When these individual parts come together to help achieve a goal or establish a process, they cannot be easily broken down into the component parts. As such, the system takes on a life of its own and may even dictate the future direction that the organization may take in the future (Ryba, 1996).
The Role of the Manager
Traditionally, managers are seen coordinators and a kind of director that monitors everything going on within the organization. If anything goes wrong, he should be there trying to fix things and making sure that they get back on track to make things going again. Such a role of the manager, however, is limited to trouble-shooting and monitoring. It does not capture the breadth and depth of what truly goes on in the management process.
Thankfully a lot of authors have looked into a more holistic view of the manager. After all, the manager is not a firefighter that is only present whenever something or somebody is on fire. Rather, the manager also is a leader in the sense that he sees what is going on, and he foresees where the trends and circumstances are leading the organization. As such, the manager is a proactive leader that takes the necessary precautions and steps to ensure that the different aspect of the organization is ready to take on the challenges brought by the external and even the internal environment of the organization.
The twenty-first century is the century that information and knowledge took center piece in the economy. Handling knowledge and information is now as important as managing the assembly line. In my own experience, management is more than just monitoring and implementing projects. Rather, a manager is also a thinker who takes into consideration the overall situation of the organization and how it can survive given the difficulties and challenges it is facing. The manager does some tweaks here and there but on the whole, he takes into consideration how the whole system can work better.
Personal Experience of Managing Using Systems Thinking
A recent personal experience in management occurred to me. The manager, although a friend of mine, was complaining about the low level of output from some members of the organization. Up to a certain degree, he was right. There were two people who were simply not meeting the standards that the company has set—these people did not meet their sales quota, which of course, affected the performance of the whole team.
What the manager did was in step with systems thinking. Instead of going directly to the two persons and scolding them for their poor performance, he observed them keenly and tried to understand the situation. After several days of observing them and their work patterns, he also conducted informal chats with other members of the team regarding work processes and dynamics. By the end of the month, he called for a meeting to address the level of the performance as well as some of the issues that he was able to uncover.
As it turned out, there were personal differences between the two persons and it was affecting their level of performance. The manager, however, did not only focus on that, but he also looked into the settings in the office and the way that work flows were designed. He elicited several suggestions for a more dynamic and responsive work flow from the team members. After that, he led the team members into a brainstorming of several ways of addressing the issue of performance. Had he asserted his authority right away, he would not have secured the participation of everyone. But because of systems thinking, the team was able to identify the root causes of difficulties and challenges.