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Update added 13 November

I am sure I am not the only ‘systems practitioner’-in-training who finds it difficult to introduce systems practice into their workplace.  I think it is different if you are an ‘external’ consultant or facilitator because clients expect you to bring something that they don’t know yourself.  But when you are an employee, colleagues (especially people who are more senior than yourself) don’t really expect you to innovate on how to do or think about things, just what you do.

So I try to do it by subterfuge.  A little bit here, a little bit there.  But the other day, I missed an opportunity because I was not prepared.

I’d managed to sneek the phrase “Viable System Model” into a document that some of the most senior managers in my organisation were going to read.  I was standing outside a meeting room with one of them and he turned to me and said “What’s the viable system model?”.  It was my big chance, I had about one minute but I floundered and burbled on.  Opportunity lost.

It reminded me of the concept that entrepreneurs use – you have 60 seconds in a lift with someone important.  You have to convince them of your business idea – are you ready to make your elevator pitch?  Entrepreneurs prepare for that moment – it is supposed to be short, sweet, convincing and require no particular technical knowledge to understand.

So, am I ready for next time?

I’d have to cover off something to do with Systems to start with:

“VSM is one of a number of approaches which emphasise the relationship between parts, rather than parts themselves.”

Then why that it is important:

“These systems approaches are particularly pertinent for dealing with complexity – both complexity in the world around us and within our organisations”

Then back to the VSM

“VSM is a way of thinking about organisations in a way that emphasises the activities that need to be done and the relationship between them.  Instead of thinking about organisations in terms of hierarchical structures and line management relationships”

Mmm don’t find that very satisfactory – I think the eyes may glaze over with the first sentence.  I need to mull this over some more.

Update – 13 November 2010.

There has been progress.  I had a think about the personal style of the person who asked me this question and realised all was not lost.  He is the sort of person who likes to read and digest things.  So I downloaded Fractal Consulting’s Paper on Modelling Organisations Using the Viable System Model and sent it to him.  A couple of days later I got this reply:

It makes a lot of sense.  I agree the hierarchical structure is sometimes conceived as a framework for attributing blame and perhaps a shift away from that would be very healthy.

🙂


5 Responses

  1. #1
    David Robinson 

    Hi Helen
    (Re TU811/TU812) You’d think that in the OU with such a strong systems group and especially (if you read on in the Ison book, you’ll come across how he and others tried to introduce ST into parts of our massive organisation , that it would be easy. Not a chance. My colleagues think ST is the new business religion and those following ‘the way’ are nutters. I’m so pleased to be a nutter. Getting ST across to people is still difficult and in its infancy. Outside the OU I ususally start by saying something about its hard to manage complexity in business today yet thinking more holistically (I may mention systemically), gives you a better chance to see how interrelationships affect outcomes and can produce unintended consequences and having multiple perspectives can give new insights into problems solving. That often leads them to ask questions, at least – then I’m off into ST and practice and the world of rich pics, PAMs and VSM. Oh well . . . new business religion speak!! I did send a collague a complete VSM of why a new department would fail unless they got S2 sorted pdq. Not sure if it was understood yet.

    Anyway, I agree with John Seddon who often castigates managers these days and especially academic business school teaching that leads to MBAs (“means b***** all,” he says) who spend all their time managing money and budgets and wonder why costs go up! Lets encourage a Masters in ST as the new MBA.

    Well done and keep trying . . .
    David

  2. #2
    Helen 

    Hi David

    I think Mintzberg speaks out against MBAs as well.

    As someone who can use MBA (Open) after their name, I have mixed feelings about this.

    I think of the ‘standard’ MBA as strategy; HR; finance and marketing – my MBA was Strategy (as compulsory module); Managing Knowledge; Creativity, Innovation and Change; and Capacities for Managing Development. I chose these modules because I work in the public sector and could not imagine working in those ‘traditional’ management disciplines. Now with hindsight, I see that I took modules that have more of a systems approach to them. Problem is, people seeing MBA (Open) assume that I just did all the old traditional stuff – you can’t win them all!

    Helen

  3. #3
    David Robinson 

    Hi Helen

    Here’s an interesting article by Ackoff. http://www.gperform.com/Ackoff_on_Adoption_of__Systems.pdf
    David

  4. #4
    Gitte 

    Hi Helen,
    Really enjoy reading your blog and in particular this part on ‘Elevator Pitch’. Two things: You inspire me in creating my own blog (still keept private) and then I am too in the sistuation of getting my workplace to realise that ‘change’ can be thought about diffently than traditional style…

    Energetic vibes,
    Gitte

  5. #5
    Ray Ison 

    Helen, lovely explorations of your experiences – and prompting very pertinent questions observatiuons from your readers. You are in essence writing about issues that are key parts of my book so you are well down the track in raising some of the issues for Part 2.

    Perhaps you could go a step further with your manager and suggest, when appropriate, getting together to explore (possibly with a few others) how you might learn jointly to employ VSM?

    Best wishes

    Ray

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