From Tiny Acorns... Socio-Technical Systems Grow

By David Bovis

You get the best performance from people who are treated well... So, now all you have to do is work out what it is to treat someone 'well'.

To understand what constitutes ‘Treating someone well’ in the workplace (so you facilitate their best performance; in-line with organisational outcome requirements), you can do worse than understand a whole lot more about the Human Factors than has been available in leadership and change training to date…


The world of organisational ‘waste’ elimination has been dealing with the ‘husk’ not the seed. Now we have the science … Its time to separate the wheat from the chaff and deal with real root-cause!
Most ‘change’ and ‘Leadership’ is focused on the elimination of ‘Wastes’ from process (Lean etc.).
There is little focus on the ‘waste’ created by thinking patterns, conflicting beliefs and the resultant behaviours which often conflict with, and undermine, the efficiency and effectiveness of individuals, teams and departments. Ironically, this is shown time and again to be root-cause of many more organisational performance issues than any of the wastes addressed by the process-focused tools and techniques. The world of change has been focused on the tangible 80%, which generates only 20% of performance problems, rather than addressing the intangible issues which constitute 80% of all organisational performance wastes. 

Where the seeds of growth (i.e. the depths of people performance) are considered, they are often seen as something to contain … something to control within a boundary, (‘silo’ thinking). It’s often hard to see this boundary, because it largely exists in heads as beliefs about ‘best-practice’, but irrespective of where and how it exists, it does exist in most organisations. In fact many leaders cling to it like a security blanket, unable to challenge the beliefs they have inherited (been imprinted by) while following the approach promoted as best-practice around the world.

Let’s face it …people and thus, their brain function (their beliefs / wiring -firing patterns), are the driving force behind process delivery, improvement and therefore, growth and profit. The unconscious systemic control built into most beliefs, see’s systems used to exercise control over the social (thinking / human) aspect of an organisation. This isn’t psychologically ‘good’! It leads to ‘learned helplessness’ and other chronic stress / control related issues which undermine performance. In only very few circumstances does it equate to ‘treating people well’ (e.g. high risk, H&S critical environments) … and thus, in only very few circumstances does this level of control, exercised by leaders, through the systems, policy and procedure they ‘choose’ to design and approve, get the best from the people in their departments / organisations.



In most organisations, manufacturing / service, private and public sector alike, getting the ‘best’ from people, by their being treated ‘well’, regularly includes popular terms like autonomy, resilience, innovation, free thinking, responsibility, ownership, empowerment, engagement … These are attributes people CANNOT demonstrate at a psychological level, when ‘contained’ by process, policy & procedure … i.e. people cannot function at their best (neurologically) when exposed to systemic control, fear of repercussions from controlling authority figures, are chronically stressed by targets, injustice, disapproval, conflicting KPI’s, doubt, fear … the list of things connected to ‘negative emotions’ and thus poor performance is massive .. failing to recognise and openly deal with this leads to a blame culture, perceptions of them and us across cultural layers and a lack of intuitive ‘sense’ across the organisation.Guess how people are able to act in such ‘socio-technical conditions’ …that’s right – not at their best, because the chemical balance is off in their heads … they are reacting emotionally and that is not conducive to the best outcomes for the organisation.

You have to let people act in context of the bigger picture, this means they will have to be released from their boundary conditions and be empowered to act freely, often without constraint. That is a very uncomfortable idea for many leaders … which is why a greater knowledge of psychology must be reflective in the first instance – using it to assess others rather than self is often just a more subtle form of blame.

In, Energy, Oil & Gas, Utilities, Local Authority, Public Sector, Service, Banking and Finance, Retail … or in Elec / Mech engineering and manufacturing environments of any description, automotive, pharma, medical, aerospace, civil, defence etc. … if you and your leadership team (across all levels of the organisation – Top-floor to Shop-floor) understand these issues in more detail, you are better placed to understand what works and what doesn’t in terms of strategy, structure and systems … Get that right, and performance, flexibility, resilience, profit, ROI, empowerment, engagement, ROCE … all the terms we use to describe ‘Good outputs / outcomes’ in business, ALL improve…and can be sustained. 

The choice is yours. You can invest in the ‘wastes’ as they’ve been defined to date if you so wish – you can line them up and make your waste elimination program look fantastic, aligned even, but the reality is, if you’re only dealing with the husk and not the seed, the chaff and not the wheat, the returns and the sustainability of those returns are significantly reduced. Your investment in the technical side of change cannot deliver the same improvement as a Socio-technical approach. The key is to create the conditions in which people can become confident and comfortable with change. On the ‘Socio’ side of the equation, that’s a psychological and neurological change issue you can’t address through imposed process change and technical training solutions.


Simply put, ALL you have to do is understand what it means to treat people ‘well’ in psychological terms. Easy!

Easy?… Remember the old saying – A little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. This is a big complex subject. If it were easy, the world of organisational change would have got it right over the last 40 years, but they haven’t. The reason we can do a much better job of it today follows significant advances in the world of neuroscience since breakthrough discoveries were made about the function of the brain in 2009. This level of knowledge around change is rapidly becoming the new world view and promises to be the new world order faster than many of the ‘fads’ that precede this new level of science behind change. Thanks to the recent advances, we can now look at psychology as a science based on empirical data. Change no longer has to be guess work. If you get left behind, your organisatin will most certainly be at a significant disadvantage compared to your competitors! If your leaders want to know more about this side of change, so they are educated and empowered to pursue ‘sustainable performance improvement’ in your organisation, Duxinaroe have to be the preferred supplier. We are only small, but growing .. and we have been dealing with change at this level for many years. We specialise in making cultures change in terms of Leadership, Lean and Health and Safety. We can offer support through our own associates, or we can educate your internal teams and license our IP for you to Roll it out across your organisation.

If this makes sense to you following years of change initiatives that don’t seem to sustain, or deliver all that was expected of them … maybe it’s time to look a little deeper, to look at your socio-technical system and commit to knowing more about the psychology behind your organisations performance capabilities. That’s what we’re her for. Why not call and discuss your requirements?

You have very little to lose and a hell of a lot to gain! Speak soon. 


i&iDavid Bovis