Systems and Cultural Approaches

It’s systems theory time…let’s do it.

So, what is it you may ask?

Systems theory, unlike the other theories we have looked at, did not originate in the study of businesses, however in the biological and engineering fields thanks to Ludwig Von Bertalanffy. At it’s most basic level, a system is an assemblage of parts. You may be thinking, yeah…but how on earth does this broad term apply to businesses? Not to mention it started in the science fields! Well, the system in an organisation are made up of people and departments that all work together rather than cells and organs.

Systems theory is broken down into three phases:

1. What systems are made of- Systems Components

2. How systems work- Systems Processes

3. Characteristics that arise from these components and processes Systems Properties

Starting from number 1:

Systems Components,comprise three aspects: hierarchical ordering, interdependence, and permeability.

Hierarchical Ordering

Systems components need to be organised and in a definite order for overall success, theorists say. They are arranged in highly complex ways that involve subsystems and supersystems. Whaaaaat??

Lets break it down. Think of a hospital, it involves a number of departmental subsystems, including surgical units, recovery units, pre-surgical units, labs, offices etc. The subsystems are composed of smaller groups and individuals. Right, Supersytem time, think of the hospital as part of the health care industry; hospitals, ambulances, nursing homes and general doctor surgeries. A hospital is part of the health care industry which is a supersytem!


interdependence implies that the functioning of one component of system relies on other components of a system. Organisations are highly interdependent. Taking the hospital for example, the surgical unit could not function without the laboratories for the results, the labs rely on the office departments for the ordering of essential products and the whole hospital in general relies on the office departments for the invoicing and all the other paperwork required for the hospital to keep functioning. Therefore, if one subsystem breaks down, the other cannot function.

Take the girls below: working together to effectively do the job…

Comms Blog - teamwork GIF

Nailed it.

Okay, moving on.


It’s all about permeable boundaries. Can information and materials flow in and out, and the degree of permeability varies from system to system. In hospitals for example, yes, I know, hospitals again…but they must be open to their larger environments so patients, information and resources can move in and out, and the subsystems must have a high degree of permeability to facilitate the flow of people through wards, and discharges along with information and materials.

Systems Processes

This looks at how the hierarchical, interdependent and permeable components work. Systems, basically, are characterised through input-throughput-output processes. Inputs are materials or information from the environment through its permeable boundaries. The system then works on these inputs through their throughputs, and then finally the system returns the transformed output to the environment.

Take an insurance broker…

Insurance Broker - "Mrs Dumpty,there's nothing in the policy about walls."

An insurance claims adjuster must gather information about relevant damages, make decisions based on insurance coverage, and then output that information to the policyholder (input-throughput-output).

There are two kinds of processes that characterise input-throughput-output operations. Firstly, the process of exchange is apparent in both input and output activities. That is the input of information into the organisation and the output of the transformed information have had some contact with the external environment to the organisation. This is obviously directly related to the permeability of the organisations boundaries.

Feedback, is the second type that is critical to the throughput of the organisational functioning. It is the information that helps facilitate the interdependent functioning of system components. There are two types. Negative feedback helps the correction of deviation-reducing if you want to get fancy, and helps to maintain steady functioning of the system. So, your working in a restaurant, you give yesterdays specials instead of todays, your supervisor tells you, you correct yourself, problem solved. Positive-growth is the second type, and served to change the system functioning through growth and development. So, your business is growing, your patrons are using social media more readily, so you suggest the implementation of a social media site to promote the restaurant and promote further growth.

When you sit back and think about systems theory as a whole you can really see how it has been implemented in your organisation you work in on a daily basis. If one subsystem breaks down, it proves to be a rather large, catastrophically, dominant and concerning problem. For me, whilst studying this area, it links back to the human resources area in ways for me. The correct management of staff will ensure the subsystems and on a larger scale supersystems work fluently. It’s been no secret in the media over the past 5 years that there has been shortages in nursing staff and facilities in hospitals across the nation. This has lead to the throughput of the heath care industry having to change rapidly and without the correct management, could have proven to be awful, having said that, it hasn’t been a bumpy ride for the Nursing industry…but that’s a whole different story. My point is systems are important, and aspects of that system (staff) are even more important as they are the ones that make it work!

Speaking of staff…Culture time.

Comms Blog- Culture

Culture is such a broad term and can comprise many different facets. When many people think about culture they think of the culture of a Nation, Australians: Barbies, Beers, Beaches, Bogans.

Comms Blog- BBQ

Americans: freedom, independence, flag, fourth of July

Comms Blog- USA

Today however, we are talking about organisational culture. We are looking at what qualities make an organisation different from one another. What makes Google different from Apple? McDonalds from Burger King?

It’s only been in the last 20th century that organisational scholars have become fascinated with the concept of ‘organisational culture’. Deal and Kennedy’s “Strong Cultures” argues that businesses can be enhanced through “strong cultures”, and if an organisation embodies this then it will be a better place for individuals to work and will improve performance. Lets look at Apple and this video of Steve Jobbs on managing people:

He mentions the notion of the organisation functioning as a start-up business where one person is in charge of different aspects of the business, and the tremendous team work at the top allows for this to happen as it filters down through the organisation. Think about what we have learnt so far from pervious blog posts. Human resources and systems theory in particular really apply to this. The concepts and theories present in each are all somewhat intertwined, and are shown in this video above. The culture at Apple, therefore, is a strong, motivated and successful one, and the success of this lies in the HR management and their systems of operating as a start-up. And as for Google…well:

Enough said?

All in all, personally, I see HR practices and corporate culture intertwine, and I strongly believe both are crucial to the productivity, motivation and loyalty of staff.


Human Relations and Human Resource Theories

Welcome to the wonderful world of human relations and human resource theories, imperative and instrumental in how organisations work with, and motivate their staff today.

Ready? Here we go…

Human Relations 

There are three main players in this aspect of communication The Hawthorne Studies, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and McGregor’s X and Y Theory.

Lets start with the Hawthorne Studies. Mayo and his team conducted a variety of studies that worked to unveil how specific changes in the work environment would affect the productivity in workers.

This saw the formation of four major experiments conducted at the Hawthorne Plant in Illinois. The first was the Illumination Study that saw the separation of two groups of workers and the lighting was held constant and the other was raised and lowered to see if the lighting affected the productivity of workers. The results showed that there were no changes except for when it was almost dark, then the productivity decreased, however it saw and increase in productivity overall. This led to the Relay Assembly Test Room Studies, which was conducted, to better understand the productivity increases. Mayo isolated 6 women and a number of changes were implemented and discussed prior to them undertaking the test. These changes were: incentive plants, rest pauses, temperature, humidity, work hours and refreshments. Productivity went up in a wide range of situations but overall the conclusion was that the productivity increased due to the social interactions and bonds formed in the time the test was undertaken and the extra attention from management overall.

To simplify have you ever worked in and environment where you had a really good friend, had ample breaks, the work hours were good and they looked after you and you felt really motivated and productive? I sure have. And let me tell you, I worked exceptionally hard. On the other hand, I have also worked in an environment where this wasn’t the case. Personality wise, I am a hard worker, but, golly it was exceptionally hard to work hard, fast and productive in an environment where I felt isolated and unappreciated, and I am sure I’m not the only one. Which is what Mayo discovered all those years ago.

The third test was the interview program which saw 1000’s of staff at the plant undertake an interview, what they found was that the employees were talking more about their emotions and feelings rather than answering the work related question. Why? Mayo discovered there were major issues at the plant with worker-management cooperation and the results of the emotionally based attitudes of the workers were the dominant topic of talking, rather than then objective difficulties of the situation. Pretty much, the workers were unhappy with management, and the only opportunity they felt they had the opportunity to express this was in the interview program.

The last test taken by the Mayo was the Bank Wiring Room Studies, which saw the non-experimental observation of men, and saw that men developed norms regarding the proper level of productivity and exerted social pressures on each other to maintain that level. It was found that the social pressures influences workers behavior more than management. Overall the findings of the entire test showed that workers increased productivity when changes in the work environment are implemented such as hours, temperature, breaks and lighting. Furthermore pay incentives increase productivity and workers output increased with increased attention from management, known as the Hawthorne Effect. Additionally output was increased with social factors.

Do you think you would work harder if someone was dangling a $100 note in form of you your entire shift….let me think about it…yes! This is what Mayo discovered, he worked out that if you looked after your workers, paid attention to them and gave them adequate breaks, they will work harder and an increase in productivity will result.

Moving on…

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory basically describes how humans are motivated by a number of basic needs. The hierarchy explains that the lower level needs must be met before the higher level needs, with each of the needs being: 1. Physiological needs, 2. Safety needs, 3. Affiliation needs, 4. Esteem needs and 5. Self-actualization needs. Virtually, the lower level needs must be met before the higher level needs. This theory and concept directly relates to the Hawthorne studies, the notion that the satisfaction of human needs reflects the shift in organisational theorising that began when the Hawthorne Researchers discovered the importance of social interaction and managerial attention in the workplace.

McGregor’s X and Y Theory looks at management styles, and believes that managers should conceptualize workers as motivated by higher order needs as shown in Maslow’s theory and as capable of independent achievement in the workplace. A Theory X manager assumes that a strong and forceful hand is essential for harnessing the efforts that basically unmotivated workers, in comparison, Theory Y manager assumes that workers are highly motivated to satisfy achievement and self-actualization needs and that the job of the manager is to bring out the natural tendencies of these intelligent and motivated workers.

PAUSE! What kind of manager motivates you? X or Y? It’s definitely Y for me any day of the week!

Moving on…

Human Resources

Theorists on the topic of HR recognised that individuals in organisations have feelings and must be considered but also looked at the individuals labor, and this, well this is imperative to meeting organisational goals.

Here we go, theory number one:

Blakes and Moutons Managerial Grid was introduced in 1964 and looked at leaders. The most effective leaders, the theory states are ones that are both concerned for people and concerned for production. The theory involves a grid and characterizing the 4 types of leaders. The first is impoverished managements low concern for people and low concern for production, country club managements high concern for people low concern for production, authority-compliance- high concern for production, low concern for people and lastly team management high concern for both.

I am all for team management! I am very pro team management, as are most of us I am sure. However, in the words of famous Australian rapper Iggy Azalea “first things first, I’m a realist”.

Comms Blog Iggy Azalea

To have a team work manager in every organisation would be ideal, almost as ideal as free ice-cream on a 40 degree day. Realistically, management style can be a reflection on personality and how managers cope with pressure, and no two people are the same, so to have all teamwork managers in an organisation is a rarity despite how ideal it would be. Nevertheless, Teamwork Management is most definitely a leadership style that produces the a high productivity level and job satisfaction for a large majority of employees, and I am most certainly one, and is something that should be aimed for, and employment based on.

But what does all of this mean?

The concepts and theories introduced in this blog are dated and the business world evident in current society differs somewhat dramatically from the time at which the theories present were written, developed and tested. Although the concepts are old, the fundamentals of them are still present in current business operations and have been adapted to best suit the current environment.

To relate these ideas on a personal level, working in a retail environment in a period where the business is experiencing a phase of significant change, has proven for there to be continual chopping and changing of staff. Over the last 5 years of my working life, I have easily had in excess of 6 different managers, all of which have been different in personality and management styles, some good and some not so good. However, it has allowed me to take some seriously valuable lessons away from it, what motivates staff? I learnt McGregor’s X and Y theory is somewhat dated.

Let me explain…

A large part of how you treat your staff and communicate with them stems from your personality traits, for example, are you a good communicator who can hold their temper when an employer makes errors, can you ensure that stress doesn’t affect your communication and management styles. It’s all well and good to say, I am going to be a type Y manager, but if your personality doesn’t suit a type Y style then executing this is going to be very difficult, from my personal standing and experience.

 You made it.

And that’s my take on Human Resource and Human Relations Theory and translating it from a classical perspective into modern life.

In short, staff are motivated on how much attention they are getting paid, rewards, working environment and gratitude. Managers that have a high attention for worker relationships and worker output are the most effective types of leaders in an organisation as their ability to synchronise the two is extremely beneficial to organisations today. However, categorising yourself as an Y type manager is not something you are able to just do, but rather is in line with your personality type.


Classical Communication Theories

Here we go, blog post #1, Classical Communication Theories…where it all began.

Have you ever worked in an organisation, visited an organisation or analysed the operations of an organisation and thought, the whole organisation works like a ‘well oiled machine’ as they say? Well, this ‘machine metaphor’ is not a new concept, but rather an old one! The machine metaphor was a concept that was founded in the Industrial Revolution and is now central to many classical theories. The machine metaphor notion suggests that we can learn something about organisations by considering each individual member and factor that the organisation embodies. Remember, back in the days when you got your first ever job? I was stacking shelves in the Shoe department at Target, and I thought to myself, ‘I literally contribute nothing to this business, they would easily survive without me stacking these shelves well, Ruby, according to the classical machine metaphor theory YOU’RE WRONG! Everyone matters, and without you- the machine would break down.

From this machine metaphor, came Henri Fayol’s theory. Fayol’s theory investigated the elements of management and also considered the principles of management. Fayol proposed five fundamental elements of management which included planning, organising, command, coordination and control. So, Fayol’s principles are very much still present in todays businesses, the goal oriented planning, the organisation of Employees which later linked to human resource principles (we will get there in a later blog post…don’t get too far ahead!), the command element which is the concept whereby your managers set you instructions, so for me… “stack those shelves, pick up stock off the floor and help customers”, coordination where each element must intertwine to ensure the machine still works, and the control which compares goals and objectives to ensure the organisation is on track to achieve these.

Fayol’s principles are very much still in place…think about it. For me, I think back to when I was working in shoes at Target, I would go in twice a week, I would be set a goal to ensure the department was tidy at the end of the day, make sure I greet customers, to make sales and to work productively for my shift, other employees would be working in other departments and we would work together to ensure everyone’s areas were full and tidy across the whole store, my manager would give me a list of things to do, which I would cross off and give her at the end of the day so they knew what I had done, and management would ensure that everyone was doing their job properly by walking the floor and making sure everyone was on track to finish properly by the time the store closes. Everything about each shift involved Fayol’s classical theories and I was working in the 2000’s!

Fayol also investigated the principles of management again, still major in todays organisations. The majority of Fayol’s principles looked into strict vertical communication with the Scalar Chain, where employees would speak to their direct manager/supervisor and no higher for example. Furthermore, he developed systems where employees should only receive direction from one manager, activities with similar goals should be placed under one supervisor, work should be designated to an employee but with limited and specialised tasks, there should be an appointed space for an employee in an organisation, managers should have small span of control where they are in charge of a small number of employees.

Moving on…

Weber’s theory of bureaucracy is a more scholarly approach rather than a prescriptive approach to theories. The theory involves looking into how a bureaucracy should be run which in Weber’s theory is a very clearly defined hierarchy, division of labour and a centralization of decision-making and power. These three elements are very similar to Fayol’s theory, however there is one aspect which differs, this is the notion that bureaucracies are closed doors, and therefore the organisation would not be influenced by any happenings on the outside world. Furthermore the importance of rules was something that also featured heavily in the theory, and Weber believed that there should be a rule for all possible contingencies in the organization.

Finally, Weber gives attention to the functioning of authority and recognises that it involves working through a system of authority, power and discipline. The three types of authority that he acknowledges are traditional authority which involves power based on long-standing beliefs about who should have control (Queen of England), Charismatic authority which is based on personality and ability to attract and interact with followers and rational and legal authority which Weber thought was the most dominant in the bureaucratic system and involved the power based on rational application of rules developed through reliance on information and expertise.

Lets break this down, shall we?

Weber’s theories are old school.

The notion that the organisation should not be influenced by external factors cannot be functional in todays working environment. The uptake of social media and technology in the business world invites an open forum for external factors, such as you and I, to have a say on what we think of the organisation.

To be blunt, how often do you see these types of comments on customer service business pages available to the public?

My coffee was cold, and the service was below par’

‘I bought a T-Shirt from you and I washed it once before it fell apart’

‘I was on hold FOR AN HOUR and you cut me off!’

Businesses do have to account for external factors now. What happens when you go to headhunt the fabulous CEO of another organisation to come across and work for you, and they Google your business, or search your Facebook page and see negative comments….external factors come into play! Or it could be as small as someone wants a place to meet their friend for coffee…but not if its cold. External factors also affect the financial aspect of businesses, if the business pays no attention to competitors, then they are unaware of what they are doing, their competitor makes a move to take customers away from you, they win, you lose money and have to cut costs. Also, investigating other organisations on how they function and the management policies they adapt can help you! Look at Google who doesn’t want to work for them? Why? They treat their staff like Royalty and have a management system that works, and their underlying success lies there.

So, external factors matter.

The last major theory is Taylor’s theory of scientific management and it concentrates on the micro level of an organisation and has a specific focus on the relationship between managers to employee. Taylor developed the theory based on two issues that bothered him, the use of the apprenticeship system where new workers were learning of experienced workers, however at time this was detrimental if the experienced worker was not doing the correct thing. Additionally it looked at the piecework system and the rate busters and systematic soldering. The theory Taylor developed was highly scientifically based with “one best way to do every job” determined on time and motion studies.

We would probably all know someone that’s doing an apprenticeship right? Well, Taylor doesn’t like this…but he has a point. The notion of an apprenticeship is that you learn of a co-worker, but what if they’re doing the wrong thing? Or don’t want to teach you? Then it would be ineffective right? However, in current society there are means and ways that monitor the overall success of an apprenticeship, there are organisations that are involved with the apprentice to ensure they are on the right track, and they have to go to Trade School to further develop their skills. Taylor’s development of the “one best way to do every job” is good on paper, but let’s be honest, if you’re working in a large organisation to implement this idea would be a catastrophically large challenge. Training and development however, to try to link each ‘best way’ to the appropriate task is a good way to keep up productivity.

You made it!

In a nutshell, that’s my take classical theories for communication. They may be old school, but they definitely made an impact, and are still in play in organisations today.