We are confounded by seemingly ‘odd’ things that go on in workplaces. We wonder ‘why it has to be this way’ when there is surely a better way to do it. Even in the face of statistics and hard data showing dramatically improved patient care, for example, we wonder why managers choose to cancel the professional development programme that directly led to the lower rates of patient mortality. This programme was measured and evaluated and the outcomes that resulted could have been a model of hospital care for all the world, yet it was still cancelled. (I will add that I was not involved in the programme, but I have seen and heard of the results as an interested bystander.) How could you go about making an analysis of this situation?
Generally speaking, we still tend to view phenomena from a mechanistic, atomistic world view. When my car was overheating, the mechanic looked at the radiator, which happened to have blown a gasket, and replaced the gasket. However, if he had looked at the cause of the blown gasket, I wouldn’t have had to take it back to him a week later. In other words, he looked at the phenomenon from a strictly linear perspective, assuming it was simply a blown gasket, rather than looking at the whole cooling system and investigating what the real cause was. If we look at workplace phenomena from a systems, or holistic, viewpoint, we may see that they are not odd at all. In fact, they will likely be absolutely in line with the unwritten ‘rules’ of the system. It can be harder to see clearly if you are in the system you are trying to look at, but developing your ‘systems thinking’ ability will assist you to make sense of such occurrences and states.
One of the characteristics of a system is that it tends towards homeostasis. In other words, it is natural for a system to resist change and there are regulatory mechanisms in place to ensure that the status quo is maintained; that the ‘rules’ keep things as they are. All systems do this: families, organisations and even our own bodies. Basic physiology shows that we have complex and inter-related mechanisms within our bodies that maintain an even body temperature, an even fluid balance and an even heart rate. Similar processes and mechanisms exist within organisations. Hence the need to be awake and conscious of any changes that are to be implemented as well as the processes that are to be used if any change is to be effected in any system. Similarly, it is vital to do a good analysis of the whole system beforehand and be cognisant of all the forces at work in and on the system.
I have still not been able to fathom why the programme I mentioned was canned, but then, systems operate in such complex ways that there are bound to be a number of factors involved, and I don’t have all the information at hand. It could be simply that the system was resisting change and was not fully primed to adapt to new ways of operating, even though they were for the better. It could be connected to the ego needs of the people involved in decision-making.
…and why didn’t that training programme make a difference? It could be that…..