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Hard and Soft Systems

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Hard and soft systems

As indicated in the introduction, if one component is changed in an open system, it will have an effect on other parts of the system because of the links of interdependence. For example, a downturn in the economy is likely to have an adverse effect on the money available to people who wish to purchase their own property. If the property market becomes depressed, employment security for those working for estate agents may be adversely affected, or the work they are required to do will change. We have seen in 2009 that perceived risk has changed attitudes in the banking sector towards lending money; this, in turn, has caused financial difficulties to individuals and organisations.

Scientific and rational management theories tend to concentrate on the tasks that organisations are required to carry out, for example, the tasks and technology required to sell property (the technical subsystem). This approach suggests that a prescription for a successful organisation is to organise the tasks of selling property into small parts and then make these as efficient as possible. Behavioural management theories, on the other hand, focus on psychological and sociological aspects of carrying out the work (the psychosocial subsystem). Thus a successful organisation needs to establish a social system in which people are motivated and participate in making decisions about the nature of the tasks and the technology. Effective managers will consult those who perform organisational tasks, involve them in decision making and reward them for doing well. Success depends mainly on the social subsystem.

Open systems theory suggests that the technical and social systems are interconnected and that both systems are important to organisational effectiveness. They must be handled together as interdependent systems, each affecting the successful implementation of change. If the change process is to be managed effectively, care must be taken by managers to understand the interconnection between the social and technical subsystems. Feedback must be obtained that establishes matches and mismatches between the systems, and identifies the numbers and size of the mismatches. This information is then used to reconcile the differences between the systems. The feedback system produced attempts to maintain equilibrium between the component parts of the internal and external environment.

2.1 Hard systems approach

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Kirk (1994) suggests that this represents a model that has precise objectives which can be expressed in quantitative terms allowing the development of mathematical models. These models can be used to predict the response of the system to changes in the environment. The model produces a convergent solution to any change. The model may be expressed in the form of mathematical equations with a precise measure of outputs - a deterministic model. Where there is more uncertainty, the relationships may be expressed in terms of probability of output as a response to a change in inputs - a stochastic model. Also, this can be extended to include non-continuous relationships through the use of chaos theory.

2.2 Soft systems approach

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This is used particularly in relation to human activity systems where there is unlikely to be agreement about the precise objectives of the system. It has been recognised for a long time that we cannot impose technical solutions on the workplace without considering the effect on people. Soft systems was developed as a methodology by Jones and Peters (1972: 76-98) working at Lancaster University and the Open University.

Analysis of change: A systematic approach to managing change Paper 2914 Page 6

A soft system is characterised by having:

* no agreement about the precise objectives of the system;

* qualitative rather than quantitative objectives;

* no single solution, but a range of equally valid alternative solutions;

* a need for involvement of all those affected by the system.

A key feature of this approach is the development of models of how the system should behave compared with the way things are in the actual system. This comparison identifies gaps between the way in which the system is operating and the way it should operate and allows the generation of a number of possible changes which could be made.

Another important feature of the methodology is to recognise that we all bring our own particular views and prejudices to any situation. For this reason it is important to involve all participants in the generation of solutions or changes as a means of securing agreement on objectives and facilitating implementation of any agreed solution. This introduces an element of action research into activities, together with a more ready acceptance of proposed solutions, and hopefully



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