Open Systems Planning for Managing Change
The focus of this topic is to acquaint the reader with the broad principles and approaches in guiding successful change in an organization, including whether it is a team, departmental unit or the overall organization.
The information in those topics is not sufficient to develop competencies in guiding successful significant change. Those competencies comes from extensive experience in applying those types of information.
NOTE: Recently, there have emerged many opinions that Organization Development and change management are two somewhat different disciplines. The opinions are that Organization Development is focused primarily on changing a whole system, for example, a team, departmental unit or organization, while change management is focused on the necessary changes among people in the organization in order to accomplish the overall change in the organization. However, the phrase “change management” is still often associated with the nature of activities to improve an organization, rather than the name of a field or discipline. So this section in this topic in the Library considers change management to be an aspect of Organization Development.
Sections of This Topic Include
- First, What is a System?
- Then, What is an Open System?
- So, What is Open Systems Planning?
- Also See These Closely Related Topics
- Related Library Topics
Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to Organizational Change
In addition to the articles on this current page, see the following blogs which have posts related to Organizational Change. Scan down the blog’s page to see various posts. Also see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the sidebar of the blog or click on “next” near the bottom of a post in the blog.
- Library’s Consulting and Organizational Development Blog
- Library’s Leadership Blog
- Library’s Supervision Blog
One of the biggest breakthroughs in how we understand and guide change in organizations is systems theory and systems thinking. To understand how they are used in organizations, we first must understand a system. Many of us have an intuitive understanding of the term. However, we need to make the understanding explicit in order to use systems thinking and systems tools in organizations.
Simply put, a system is an organized collection of parts (or subsystems) that are highly integrated to accomplish an overall goal. The system has various inputs, which go through certain processes to produce certain outputs, which together, accomplish the overall desired goal for the system. So a system is usually made up of many smaller systems, or subsystems. For example, an organization is made up of many administrative and management functions, products, services, groups and individuals. If one part of the system is changed, the nature of the overall system is often changed, as well — by definition then, the system is systemic, meaning relating to, or affecting, the entire system. (This is not to be confused with systematic, which can mean merely that something is methodological. Thus, methodological thinking — systematic thinking — does not necessarily mean systems thinking.)
An open system is a system that regularly exchanges feedback with its external environment. Open systems are systems, of course, so inputs, processes, outputs, goals, assessment and evaluation, and learning are all important. Examples in this topic are social systems, such as teams and organizations. Aspects that are critically important to open systems include the boundaries, external environment and equifinality. Healthy open systems continuously exchange feedback with their environments, analyze that feedback, adjust internal systems as needed to achieve the system’s goals, and then transmit necessary information back out to the environment.
This is in contrast to a closed system in which the system does not interact with its external environment. Employees in a closed organization have no interactions with others outside the organization. Closed organization systems often fail because they get no diversity of perspectives and opinions from outside the organization, including from those that the organization is intended to serve. Consequently, creativity and innovation tends to decrease over time. Those organizations tend to stagnate.
Open systems planning is a type of strategic change activity (referred to as a type of intervention) by the field of Organization Development. Cummings and Worley, in their book Organization Development and Change (Fifth Edition, p. 171), define open systems planning as “This change method helps organizations and departments to systematically assess their environmental relationships and to plan for improvements interactions. It is intended to help organizations to become more active in relating to their environments.”
In open systems planning, the organization closely examines the external environment, for example, political, economic, societal and technological influences on the organization. That also includes clarifying expectations and influences from stakeholders, for example, customers, collaborators and suppliers. It is critical that the understanding of the external environment as very accurate.
Then it is useful to articulate a vision for how the organization can best operate to take advantage of opportunities and ward of threats based on that external information. Then the organization identifies strategies and actions to best align itself to achieve that vision. It is critical that key personnel in the organization have a common perception of the external information, the vision for alignment, and the actions needed to make that alignment.
One of the best tools for starting open systems planning is to do a logic model of the organizational system. See the diagram in this document: What is an Open System?
- Guidelines, Methods and Resources for Organizational Change Agents
- Overview of the Field of Organization Development
- Competencies and Resources for Organizational Change Agents
- All About Strategic Planning
Additional Library Resources in the Category of Organizational
Change and Development