The application of systems thinking as applied to corporate communication.
P & 0 Grindrod Logistics (Pty) Ltd (POGL) was the focus of study over a period of two years and served as the learning field for the systemic appreciation of complex problem resolution. Organisational conversation and communication surfaced as an issue within the organisation during this period of research and served as the system of interest (SOl) warranting further appreciation and understanding. This paper surfaces an understanding of the complex and emergent issues and dilemmas of the SOl through a process of generative learning, using systems thinking and a brief theoretical understanding of communication, as a multimethodological paradigm. The reflective approach was to gain knowledge and understanding of the SOl and then to subject the knowledge claims to validation. Various worldviews emerged, as to the causes and reasons for non-communication. This required the surfacing of personal issues and experiences, an understanding of emotions, appreciation for other's points of view, values, knowledge, perceptions, beliefs and ethics of the staff at POGL. A systemic appreciation facilitated the emergence and understanding of behaviours of the people, specifically as regards the leadership style and the knowledge-power position of that management style. During my research, my observation was that organisational conversations were limited to these issues, void of any strategic value or vision content. In most job functions including managerial positions, authority levels, empowerment, innovation, and creativity, was replaced with a command style leadership. People lived in fear of reprisal and did as they were told. Retrenchments and restrictions on capital expenditure, equipment maintenance and general day to day running costs, further limited team building, personal and organisational learning, by removing responsibility and authority and relocating this to the Executive Team. The absence of a communicated vision negatively affected commitment, productivity decreased, and focus and energy was lost. A culture of non-communication, namely, distrust, emotions, disrespect, and credibility, emerged as barriers to effective communication and were noted as concerns of the people. The proposed intervention is the creation of a learning organisation, with the purposeful construction of a strategy to enhance and maximise organisational learning. The process is designed as systems starting with leadership development, progressing through strategic conversation, a system to improve communication, recognition, reward and performance management systems and staff and management development. The overall objective is to improve organisational effectiveness. The intervention has developed as a generative learning process, ie the reflections of the two-year research process and the additional reflections and learnings from this paper. This was a conscious attempt to improve competitiveness, productivity and innovation, to understand uncertainties and the need for learning in order to improve adaptability and efficiency during these times of change and uncertainty in POGL. As evidenced from the literary review of systems thinking and the application to the issues in this organisation, we are dealing with a complex and dynamic environment. 'Learning enables a quicker and more effective response to this environment, increases information sharing, communication, understanding, increases the level of energy and excitement in individuals and the quality of decisions made in organisations.' (April, 2000:49) The whole process requires a culture change for the organisation and will take time. However, I am of the opinion that the inclusion of staff in organisational decision making complemented with staff development will improve innovation and creativity and promote a sustainable organisation. People desire to be part of a community, where expansive thinking is encouraged and recognition and reward part of the process of building trust and respect; where the people talk to one another, learn from each other in ongoing dialogue, exchange advice, coach and mentor each other. Success is in teamwork, personal mastery, a shared vision and developing leaders capable of dealing with the complexities of the present and the future. The five learning disciplines, namely, systems thinking, personal mastery, team building , mental models and shared vision are seen in this paper as a foundation and enhance aspiration, reflective conversation and understanding complexity. (April , 2000:52) Jack Welch, formerly of General Electric, quoted in April (2000:50) said of learning: 'Our behaviour is driven by a fundamental core belief: The desire and the ability of an organisation to continually learn from any source - and to rapidly convert this learning into action - is its ultimate competitive advantage.'