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COMM5615 Systems Thinking And Business Dynamics

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COMM5615 Systems Thinking And Business Dynamics

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Course Code: COMM5615
University: University Of New South Wales

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Country: Australia


‘Systems thinking is critical in developing solutions to sustainability challenges.’
To what extent do you agree with this statement, and why?  Draw on one of the following wicked problems to illustrate your answer:


It is uncommon to experience a single day without hearing the word “sustainability” or “green” connected to anything from Apple to Zinfandels. The popularity of the term has adopted nearly all phrases that appear to be applicable to any division. In any case, the basic thoughts and necessities are normal. In any case, in spite of the prevalence of the term, there is barely any calculation on how to support the worldwide sustainable development. ‘Systems thinking’ is a one tool, which can be used to serve the growing concern for sustainability challenges. However, it also has its criticisms for a fact that it is too fundamentalist (Mingers 2015). In this essay, ‘systems thinking’ is being studied in relation to the aging workforce in Australia. The main focus of this essay is to understand whether systems thinking can help fight against the aging workforce in Australia.
Thesis statement: “Systems thinking can help to develop solutions to sustainability challenges”
Aging workforce: Aging workforce is a global issue; however, level of severity can be different for different regions across the globe. Australia, which is the case study country, is different to most other countries in the world in terms of threats from aging labor force. This is due to various reasons such as elderly people here work for a larger part of their lives. The elderly workers are healthier than people of same age group in most other parts of world. A better health & fitness condition is one of the reasons that encourage for working for a longer time span (Zuo et al. 2014). BMW is the one company, which has shown the ways of applying ‘Systems thinking’. The luxury German automobile manufacturer when realized that its majority of workforce is getting older and nearing to their retirement, it introduced a few modifications to their work nature. Seating arrangements were being made, so that, elderly people can work while being seated. Earlier, the elderly employees had needed to work while standing for long time. This kind of strategy does not only reduce the physical work pressure but also lifts the morale to work (Szillat and Betov 2015). The example just shows that the HRM can strategically use the ‘systems thinking’ to keep its elderly workforce motivated for work.  
Systems thinking: Systems thinking is a way to promote a fundamental approach towards solving a problem. ‘Systems thinking’ assumes that all components of organizations are interconnected; hence, a fundamental approach needs to be taken to ensure that systems remain unaffected by problems. ‘Systems thinking’ can be a difficult task to perform for a fact that very few companies are aware of how to implement the ‘Systems thinking’ into operations (Arnold and Wade 2015). Until and unless ‘Systems thinking’ is applied appropriately to the system, it won’t produce the results.    
Reasons for systems thinking: As opined by von Kutzschenbach, Schmid and Schoenenberger (2018), ‘Systems Thinking’ is used because it can expand the range of choices as solutions and help also to articulate problems in distinguished ways. At the same time, it also helps to realize that there is no perfect solution to a problem. It rather gives choices to influence the interrelated components of an organization. The influence can be either positive or negative, which depend on how it is being applied to the system. Therefore, it helps to make the informed choices. ‘Systems thinking’ is useful also because it provides and educates about the useful tools to identify, describe and communicate the choices as solutions. ‘Casual loop diagrams’ is one of such tools, which can help to convey the solution (Monat and Gannon 2015).  
Best time to use it: ‘Systems thinking’ should be used for a chronic business problem like ‘the aging workforce’. Aging workforce is both chronic and an important issue from a perspective that organizations may very soon lose a few of its senior and skilled employees. ‘Systems thinking’ can also be used at times when people have tried to use a number of solutions but failed to resolve the issue. It can be apparently said that ‘Systems Thinking’ deals with complex and challenging circumstances (Bocken et al. 2014). The chosen case-study issue ‘Australia’s aging workforce’ is a chronic and a very vital issue for both the Australian government and organizations. Such issues need to be dealt with both fundamental and practical thought process.  
Probable solutions: There is probably no such potential solution for an aging workforce. Fresh recruitments can be done to fulfill the occasional and the long-term needs for skilled professionals; however, it can never be used as a replaceable option for elderly employees. It is very challenging to recruit so many fresh professionals due to a various reasons like an inadequate supply of skilled professionals at the global level, investment constraints and strategic inabilities of firms (Mahmood 2015).
BMW presents a good example by acting smartly towards its aging employees. In spite of following the others’ footsteps, BMW decided to go the other way. It made such arrangements that the elderly employees could feel relaxed at work. Seating arrangements were being made, so that, employees could seat and feel relaxed. The company did not let the momentum hampered from the aging workforce (Szillat and Betov 2015). This is how systems thinking works. It shows new ways of dealing with complex situations. ‘Systems thinking’ is about following an unconventional move towards solving the issue. It encourages following the activities, which are not the part of the normal routine. A very deep thinking about the system by drawing a big picture to locate the interconnected components is a seldom happening activity in companies. ‘Systems thinking’ is an approach that follows some fundamentals, which are to design the big picture and make the close analysis of the system. A close analysis is needed to understand the interrelated behaviors of system. The close analysis will provide information on both profitable and less profitable areas.
Case examples of ‘Systems thinking’: A major consumer products company did undergo a re-engineering of its seven key business domains to reduce costs and improve profitability. The senior management in the company was personally concerned with the situation. A team was made to redesign the supply chain. A system map was designed to see the problem areas. It was being found that ongoing expenses on product mix were impacting the profitability. It contributed to a rise in the supply chain operations and eventually impacted the revenues as well. Every single product was then checked for its profitability. It was found that a large number of products were producing low or even negative profits. Therefore, products were made streamlined which eventually resulted in higher revenues and reduced costs (Davis et al. 2014).
Another case example is of a California-based software company which was struggling with its poor sales performance. The executive VP of the company did know that the problem is systematic in nature. Consequently, a team was formed to work on the issue. A map was designed to identify the problem areas. The problem was spotted and presented to the executive VP of the company. The problem was related to the sales team, which had a significant shift between them related to the execution of strategies recommended by senior managers. The sales teams were not working towards a common or shared goal. Few of them were adhering to the recommended strategies while others not. On a broader aspect, it was eventually affecting the implementation of recommended strategies. Systems thinking did help the executive VP of the company to form a team to find the root causes of the issue. With the help of the big picture, they were able to identify that there is a problem in the sales department (Raymaker 2016).  
Literature review: According to Kim et al. (2014), ‘Systems thinking’ can help to see a big picture in situations when pictures have become complex and messy. Big pictures can be used to see the interconnected components and to identify the problem zones. As opined by Loosemore and Cheung (2015), ‘Systems thinking’ is used to solve problems, which cannot be done by any other means. It does so by exploring a number of interconnected components, so that; specific problem areas could be identified. In the opinion of Nguyen, Nguyen and Bosch (2015), challenges can be broadly classified into two categories like technical and adaptive. Technical challenges at times can be very difficult to be handled. On the other hand, Adaptive challenges are not the routine challenges and can also cause troubles for the management. Sustainable development challenges are one of the examples of adaptive challenges. These need to be repaired with a systematic approach towards the problems. According to Grohs et al. (2018), a system is formed of a set of interrelated components, which work towards a common goal. In that case, it means that to identify the problem area it is important to understand the behavior of interrelated components. The guided strategy will help to identify the problem area. ‘Systems thinking’ also says that an organization is a system of interrelated components. It also says that in order to identify the root cause of the issue, it is advisable to think about the big picture to identify the main problem area.
Finding: This section finds the answers to the essay topic on the basis of information been derived from the two case analysis and the literature review. This can be said that ‘systems thinking’ is critical to the development of solutions to sustainability challenges. It is important and advisable as well to adopt a different approach to identify, describe and understand the problem areas. ‘Systems thinking’ is a process, which allows a different and detailed way to look into a matter. The approach is different because organizations do not normally use it. It is detailed because it allows drawing a detailed picture to see the different components of organizations in an interconnected way. Such pictures help to compare and contrast the different components of a system and inform about the department wise performance. Moreover, it provides ample of information about the system using which problem areas could be identified. It does not only indicate the problem areas but points out towards the exact area of problems (Lane, Munro and Husemann 2016).
For example, it cannot be said that there are problems in the sales department. It would rather say that the particular activity of the sales department is generating the problems. Sales performance can be affected from various factors like expenditures or the declining sales. In the context of the Australian aging workforce, systems design can really help as it did to BMW in Germany. Australia has an advantage that people here work for a longer period of their life than most other parts of world. The management, top management and HRM will all need to unite for a common mission, which is to find the alternate solutions to aging workforce. A separate team will be required to put into action to work upon the systematic approach towards the issue. Despite these arrangements, there can be problems during the implementation of ‘Systems thinking’. This is because a very few companies are clear with how to implement the ‘systems thinking’. Implementation is the one area where the Australian human resource should pay attention to (Khairani et al. 2017).
In summary, it can be concluded that ‘systems thinking’ can find out solutions for a number of issues like the aging workforce in Australia. Australian organizations can head towards the issue with the help of ‘systems thinking’. The human resource professionals and the management will need to work in collaboration towards the issue. They will be required to form a team especially dedicated to work on ‘Systems thinking’. The team should be able to follow and execute the process of dealing with the ‘systems thinking’. However, ‘systems thinking’ can fail as well if not being implemented appropriately. Therefore, it can be said that ‘Systems thinking’ is critical to the development of solutions for sustainability challenges provided that implementation strategies are known to the team.
Reference style
Arnold, R.D. and Wade, J.P., 2015. A definition of systems thinking: a systems approach. Procedia Computer Science, 44, pp.669-678.
Bocken, N.M., Short, S.W., Rana, P. and Evans, S., 2014. A literature and practice review to develop sustainable business model archetypes. Journal of cleaner production, 65, pp.42-56.
Davis, M.C., Challenger, R., Jayewardene, D.N. and Clegg, C.W., 2014. Advancing socio-technical systems thinking: A call for bravery. Applied ergonomics, 45(2), pp.171-180.
Grohs, J.R., Kirk, G.R., Soledad, M.M. and Knight, D.B., 2018. Assessing systems thinking: A tool to measure complex reasoning through ill-structured problems. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 28, pp.110-130.
Khairani, N.S., Kasim, E.S., Rajamanoharan, I.D. and Misman, F.N., 2017. Green Supply Chain Management in the Malaysian Automotive Industry: A Systems Thinking Perspective. International Journal of Supply Chain Management, 6(2), pp.38-48.
Kim, Y.A., Akbar, H., Tzokas, N. and Al-Dajani, H., 2014. Systems thinking and absorptive capacity in high-tech small and medium-sized enterprises from South Korea. International Small Business Journal, 32(8), pp.876-896.
Lane, D.C., Munro, E. and Husemann, E., 2016. Blending systems thinking approaches for organisational analysis: reviewing child protection in England. European Journal of Operational Research, 251(2), pp.613-623.
Loosemore, M. and Cheung, E., 2015. Implementing systems thinking to manage risk in public private partnership projects. International Journal of Project Management, 33(6), pp.1325-1334.
Mahmood, M., 2015. Strategy, structure, and HRM policy orientation: Employee recruitment and selection practices in multinational subsidiaries. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 53(3), pp.331-350.
Mingers, J., 2015. Helping business schools engage with real problems: The contribution of critical realism and systems thinking. European Journal of Operational Research, 242(1), pp.316-331.
Monat, J.P. and Gannon, T.F., 2015. What is systems thinking? A review of selected literature plus recommendations. American Journal of Systems Science, 4(1), pp.11-26.
Nguyen, T.V., Nguyen, N.C. and Bosch, O.J., 2015. Applying a systems thinking approach to address the barriers affecting the Vietnamese coffee export industry. International Journal of Business and Management Review, 3(4), pp.49-65.
Raymaker, D.M., 2016. Intersections of critical systems thinking and community based participatory research: a learning organization example with the autistic community. Systemic practice and action research, 29(5), pp.405-423.
Szillat, P. and Betov, A., 2015. Marketing to multicultural audiences-Ethnic marketing for Turks in the German automotive and telecommunications industries. International Journal of Business and Management, 3(2), pp.85-95.
von Kutzschenbach, M., Schmid, A. and Schoenenberger, L., 2018. Using Feedback Systems Thinking to Explore Theories of Digital Business for Medtech Companies. In Business Information Systems and Technology 4.0 (pp. 161-175). Springer, Cham.
Zuo, J., Xia, B., Barker, J. and Skitmore, M., 2014. Green buildings for greying people: a case study of a retirement village in Australia. Facilities, 32(7/8), pp.365-381

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