Fostering Whole System Change

To describe key elements of fostering whole system change, it is essential to understand what the system’s change is. According to Bill Adams (1997), “whole systems can be looked at in relation to the human body. Each little aspect from organs, brain, heart, nerves, cells, etc. is a small part that makes up the entire human body. Everything has its job and function that it must do. All of these intricate parts will constantly change to maintain the whole.”

When one looks at it, it makes it easy to understand that every part of an organization is a part of the whole, and that is the system in its entirety. Everything in the organization, from the processes, employees, departments, policies, etc. has to run smoothly for the whole system to work. If change were to occur, every aspect, from the smallest to the largest, needs to handle modifications, especially when it involves the whole system.

With this understanding in mind, one can begin to look at what key elements are needed to foster whole system changes. The whole system changes may be of a large scale that affects the entire organization and will impact each area in it. These can be massive changes such as cultural change, policy changes, redesigning organizations due to mergers or acquisitions, etc. These changes are similar to how one thing that affects a body part can affect the entire human body and requires a change to keep it functioning.

Considering the whole system change affects each part, it is vital to communicate with each element within it. According to Michael J. Kendrick, Darrell L. Jones, Lee Bezanson, and Richard E. Petty (2006), “communications must take place at all levels and components of the system, even the smallest subsystems. Communicating from the lowest level allows it to expand from this into a more comprehensive level where communication encompasses all parts of the system. Communicating at all levels allows for a determination of the effects on finance, planning, coordination, and more.”

While communication is the most significant part of whole systems changes, it is crucial to keep in mind that anything can happen at any time. One should be aware and prepared to adapt to the possibilities of hitting roadblocks in the process. There are other aspects of the whole system change. According to Michael J. Kendrick et al. (2006), “the key elements identified by change practitioners are various leadership methods at all levels inside the system, practical operational skills, vision, continuity, involve stakeholders where possible, critical thinking, understand issues, and sustainability.”

It is important to remember that a system is not sentient; therefore, it relies upon its people. The system and changes are as good as the people that maintain and implements it. If one small part is dysfunctional, it will negatively affect the system, and a weak point will appear that can begin to ripple and affect the whole system. With this being said, it is essential to examine all aspects of the whole organizational system’s strengths and weaknesses.

Using Organizational Development Change Models that highlights the organizational capacity for whole system change largely depends upon what method of change needs to be implemented. One needs to determine whether the organization-wide change models, bottom-up models, or employee-focused models are required, or a mix of models from these methods. According to Ben Mulholland (N.D.), “There are many change models available out there to implement, and these can consist of the McKinsey 7-S model, Lewin’s Change model, ADKAR, Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) model, Kotter’s 8 Step, or Bridge’s Transition Model.”
A newer method that is geared towards the modern era is the Whole Systems Transformation (WST) model. According to Louis Carter and Roland Sullivan (2012), “the Whole Systems Transformation model focuses on call components of a system to be changed or modified. The WST model works to transform the entire organization. In the WST theory, rather than changing the systems inside an organization, it posits changing the entire organization itself instead; it is a method to reinvent and create a new system. The WST model consists of eight steps. These steps are leadership transformation, critical mass transformation, sustained development, change foci, communication, thrill the customer, measured results, and action research.”

For an organization to successfully implement change, the organization must be ready for the change; if any part of the system is incapable of handling the changes made, it can cause the whole change effort to fail. Several factors must be considered to determine whether an organization is ready for change. According to Robert Tanner (2020), “one needs to be able to determine several things to discover if their organization is capable of change. These determining factors can be explored with three questions that can be delved into further. The three questions that are the basis for further explorations are: how ready are the managers for change, how ready is the organization for change, and how ready are the employees for change.”

It is essential to look at the organizations’ strengths and weaknesses and all its parts within the system to assess readiness. If the finances are not available, this can present a problem with covering the costs of the changes required. If the company’s culture is not engaged with the changes, then the organization can be met with resistance; thus, the employees, stakeholders, and culture need to be communicated with, addressed, and strengthened. If the managers, leaders, and people are not skilled or do not have the proper tools, then the change effort can be difficult or impossible. If a plan and scope of the change are not thorough, this can lead to uncertainties and a more considerable risk for failure. Many efforts need to be addressed and made to achieve change successfully; it is not enough to say, “We have an idea!”

In conclusion, it is essential to see that every part, internal and external, is the system as a whole. One must plan, prepare, analyze, research, implement, and monitor any change effort before the change is attempted and continue after a change is made. Finally, it is important to keep the vision for the change, communicate the vision and change, and be active continuously to ensure the best chances to attain success.



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