Socio-Technical Systems and Organizational Values

Modern organizations define themselves using statements of vision. They state their vision in terms of human resources and technology, a socio-technical view. Modern organizations also define themselves in terms of values. New employees entering the organization learn the value system from employees with longevity in it. How organizations incorporate socio-technical systems as a reinforcement tool of their value system is the focus of this paper.

Values

In business, small and large, values determine course the business sets for itself. Yukl (2006) defines values as key statements of an organization. The value statement is ideological, what the organization considers important. Many values find their way into organizations including customer service, innovation, satisfaction of internal and external constituents, and excellence. Yulk’s view of values suggests something deeper. Organizational values and value creation are the soul of competitive edge, competitive advantage.

Hill and Jones (1998) write of management values as statements of how managers will conduct themselves and how they will do business. Managers in high performing businesses conduct themselves with stakeholders in mind. Winston (2002) suggests that high performing leaders accept the values of the organization as being of higher consequence and importance.

Systems

Values of an organization (customer service, innovation, satisfaction) imply an organization is a system. Senge (1990) tells us that organizations are organic systems of interconnected and interrelated sub-groups. This suggests more than brick and mortar structures, it suggests organizations of people, technology, and social interaction. Technology, according to Davis (1996), is a “conceptual bridge” between science and economics. This link gives form to how organizations manage. Conversely, Wren (2005) presents the view of technological change being disturbing to the social system of an organization. Socio-technical systems offer leverage to dispel the disturbing nature of change.

Socio-Technical Systems

Lee (2000) explains social of the socio-technical systems as the habitual attitudes of people. He includes the relationships between people with their values and behavioral styles. He also describes it as the formal power structure identified using traditional organizational charts. However, he continues with the aspect of an informal power structure based on influence and knowledge. The technical system makes up second part of the dyad. This system, according to Lee (2000), is “machinery, processes, procedures and a physical arrangement.”

A socio-technical system, abbreviated STS for the remainder of this paper, is people and technology blended. Yet, this is a much too simple definition. Some elements of STS are closely interrelated; therefore, it is not easy to distinguished items within a STS as purely technical or purely social. Aldridge (2004) explains STS as approaching organizational work groups as social systems and macro social systems. A third level of work observed is primary work systems. The primary work system according to Aldridge is one or more work units involved in face-to-face work. Work units collaborate jointly and have support of management, relevant technology, resources, and workplace specialists. Aldridge includes the writings of Trist (1981) when defining macro social systems, “…macro social systems include systems in communities and entire business sectors as well as societal institutions” (Trist, 1981, pg. 11). The STS design in work groups is increasing productivity of the group and increasing job satisfaction through optimization of social factors and integration with technical factors.

Elements of STS

According to an anonymous article on STS, the author explains some of the components integrated into a functional socio-technical system. Explained separately, each component has its own character; however, it is clear how closely linked each is and overlaps the others.

• Hardware is computers and computing peripherals, the classic technology of modern business. Organizations today do not exist without some kind of computing network, connecting wires, routers, and individual workstations.

• Software includes operating systems (Windows, UNIX, Apple, etc). As technology advances, it is increasingly difficult to separate hardware and software. Software varies based on organizational needs; yet software allows companies to create data for storage on hardware devices. The software often runs from the same hardware devices used for storage. Software facilitates social interaction by allowing distantly remote people an opportunity to message each other in almost real-time.

• Physical surroundings (physical setting) help establish the social and technical rules of engagement. Building with an open floor plan and open desk arrangement allows open social interaction among workers. Buildings with offices separating workers reduce interaction. Managers with an inner sanctum guarded by a secretary’s office establish a hierarchy of power.

• People, by name and by title, make up an integral part of any organization culture, social environment. Within an organization people have roles they play, positions they work in, and ancillary roles they exercise. Within their roles, they use their surrounds with hardware and software to support their roles.

• Procedures define operational procedures in an organization. Procedures are statements of rules and norms formally written. Outside the formal written procedural statements are unofficial ties to data flow and reporting relationships. Procedures attempt to define culture in a STS but the informal norms and behaviors are equally important to understand when developing a STS model.

• Laws and regulations are similar to procedures but impose stronger public sanctions when violated.

• Data and data structures in STS involve collection and storage of an organization’s information. Additionally, this element explains data use, retrieval, or presentation for use.

An organization’s socio-technical system supports the business as a great place to work. More than that, STS is a key factor to supporting leadership initiatives, vision, and values. Observed in 1949 in Great Britain, researchers developed socio-technical systems in South Yorkshire coalmines. They saw the technical improvements in mining coal combined with highly motivated work groups who self-regulated and collaborated closely became more productive than traditional work groups with the same technological improvements. Another observation was the self-regulated and collaborative teams were more cooperative among themselves, performing multiple tasks rather than one man one job, and committed to Ortgeist (spirit of the place) (Aldridge, 2004).

STS Applied Organizationally

A recent Internet search found the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration Logistic Center’s statement of beliefs and commitments. Not all cited here; however, these selected ones reinforce concepts of socio-technical systems.

• Results Oriented – The Logistics Center constantly drives for results and success. We drive issues to closure, persist despite obstacles and opposition, and maintain a high energy level. Our employees readily put in the needed time and effort to achieve results.

• Innovation – The future of the Logistics Center is assured only as long as it welcomes and rewards innovation, creativity, and resourcefulness. We recognize “trial and error” as being elements of innovation and continuous improvement. Innovation has been the cause of success for the Logistics Center.

• Quality – We provide the best quality in all of our products and services. Our goal is to exceed industry benchmarks.

• People – People are our most important resource. We respect the individual’s dignity and value their contributions. We invest in training and education to give our employees the tools to make the Logistics Center a world-class organization.

• Teamwork and Collaboration – The Logistics Center provides a positive and challenging environment that supports the achievement of mission goals and fosters team spirit. We are partners with our customers, stakeholders, suppliers, and are committed to union/management partnerships.

• Integrity and Openness – The Logistics Center values trust, sincerity, honesty, and candor in relationships both personally and organizationally. We encourage our employees to express ideas, opinions, and thoughts in an honest and genuine manner.

• Corporate Citizenship – The Logistics Center values a positive corporate image and is sensitive to our corporate responsibilities to the community. We actively participate and support community involvement.
In post-industrial organizations, STS helps leaders create constructs that are enabling, empowering, in turn, enabling and empowering accelerates communication, and learning and knowledge. Within the context of knowledge building and knowledge, sharing, STS, through collaboration, allows work groups’ flexibility to develop original work patterns and competitive advantage.

Leaders Role in STS

Davis (1996) urges successful leaders to lead as if the future is now. Accomplishing this means seeing the final product rather than the processes of the product. STS employs the right people and the right technology at the right time within a structure that supports organizational values.
In an environment of rapid change, having a competitive advantage allows organizational foresight. However, foresight requires maintaining core values. Socio-technical systems support organizational values by maintaining organizational memory and shared experiences. Memory and shared experiences provide views of where the organization was while keeping everyone tracking toward future vision. An organization with strong STS standards uses their technology to preserve history, create performance benchmarks, and develop knowledge and learning environments. Strong quality systems demonstrate teams’ abilities to eliminate obsolete practices while staying within the framework of original values.

Conclusion

Stated earlier, organizations are systems of interrelated parts with differing skills and skill levels. STS, working within an organizations value system promotes wisely those with skills, knowledge, and ability. Additionally, STS, working with the value system, provides workers with the tools needed to grow in the skills, knowledge, and abilities so they, too, can be promoted. Members of self-directed teams seek new or improved skills from within the STS and through their interconnection with team members.
Self-directed teams improved productivity and commitment to the team and organization in English coalmines in 1949 and self-directed teams continue being productive and committed. Therefore, an organization employing socio-technical systems can grow into the future, yet hold fast to its historical past and the values making the group viable.

References

Aldridge, J. W. (2004). aboutChange Solutions. Encyclopedia of Distributed Learning (ISBN 0-7619-2451-5). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Anonymous, (no date). Why a Social-Technical System? Retrieved online January 12, 2006 from [http://www.computingcases.org/general_tools/sia/socio_tech_systems.html].

Anonymous, (1996 – May-June). Maintaining Organizational Memories. TQM/CCI News. Retrieved January 22, 2006 from [http://www.grafix9000.com/documents/ccinews_organizational-memory.pdf].

Davis, S. (1996). Future Perfect. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Hill, C. W. L. & Jones, G. R. (1998). Strategic Management: An Integrated Approach. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Lee, Q., (2000). Quality in the Balance: Six-Sigma – A Socio-Technical System. Retrieved online January 12, 2006 from [http://www.sixsigma.com/library/content/c020902a.asp].

Senge, P. M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Currency and Doubleday.

Trist, E. L. (1981). The evolution of socio-technical systems: A conceptual framework and an action research program. Ontario Quality of Working Life Center, Occasional Paper no. 2.

U. S. Federal Aviation Administration – Logistics Center. Organizational Values. Retrieved online January 22, 2006 from [http://www.logistics.faa.gov/StratPlan/values.htm].

Winston, B. (2002). Be a Leader for God’s Sake. Virginia Beach, VA: Regent University, School of Leadership Studies.

Wren, D. A. (2005). The History of Management Thought (5th Ed.) Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Wren, J. T. (1995). The Leader’s Companion: Insights on Leadership Through the Ages. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in Organizations (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Digg and Del.icio.us

Generating website traffic and increasing website page rank can lead to big business. The uses of social bookmarking are becoming increasingly popular to aid in this task. The two web applications that are the most used at the present moment are digg.com and del.icio.us.com.

Social Bookmarking

Generating website traffic and increasing website page rank can lead to big business. The uses of social bookmarking are becoming increasingly popular to aid in this task. The two web applications that are the most used at the present moment are digg.com and del.icio.us.com. Both of the sites use the same concept of centralized bookmark management. Lately the main debate seems to be which of the web applications delivers the right type of traffic, which has proven to be the key to a successful blog site. Although Digg and Del.icio.us are similar in many ways they go about presenting the information in a slightly different fashion.

Often referred to as a collection of favorites, del.icio.us is very user friendly and represents simplicity at its best. Basically, del.icio.us is designed to allow you to store and share bookmarks on the web, instead of your browser. The user has the ability to add any favored article as a bookmark to their del.icio.us account, which allows them to access the same bookmarks from anywhere. The website follows a simple to use structure. When many people bookmark the same article, the article makes it to the popular page for millions of viewers to see.

Digg This

On the other hand Digg.com is more of a digital media democracy that places an emphasis on technology and science articles. When an article is submitted to dig.com, other people read the submission and digg what they like the best. Once the article receives enough “diggs”, it appears on digg’s front page which is similar to del.icio.us’s popular page. If the story does not receive enough diggs, or if enough users report a problem with the submission, the story will remain in the .digg all. area, where it will eventually removed. If the article is lame or form of spam, the reader has the chance to bury the article. Digg and del.icio.us are full of interesting material and offer many different dimensions of content available. Both sites can be very beneficial in helping businesses promote themselves through social bookmarking. The key to generating more traffic from digg and del.icio.us is to concentrate on delivering truly useful resources to the readers. If the people value the information in your article, they will be more likely to bookmark or digg what you have to say.

Tools of Science Related to Gender

It would come as no surprise, given degrees in both Psychology and Computer Science, that I take a psychological perspective when assessing the value of computers in our lives. Applied Computer Science is technology, and “building a better mousetrap” must be practical in terms of the human element. What value would a computer from another planet have to us, if it had a thousand keys designed for a thousand-fingered hand, or represented values as imagery below the infra-red or beyond the ultra-violet threshholds of our vision, or as sounds with no fixed reference point (we don’t all have “perfect pitch”) or as subtly varying and confusing fragrances (we’re not dogs)?

A computer is a tool — one among many used by human beings. Most computers are designed to be general-purpose computation tools able to perform a vast variety of tasks. Coding languages have been designed, with various strengths and shortcomings, that challenge the abilities of human beings of varying aptitudes. One could write at length about computer languages alone, but this article is more about tools in general, and how the investigator creates and shapes the tools used in research. And at the risk of sounding sexist, it’s a brief look at how gender differences influence the use of tools.

At Harvard, Lawrence Summers drew fire for his observation that women were far outnumbered by men in the hard sciences. Critics apparently thought his observation implied that women were less capable than men in understanding mathematics and empirical sciences (that comes as news to me, given the number of talented hard-driving female math and science teachers I’d had).

I won’t judge that either men or women are better at understanding mathematical/technical concepts, but I will recognize a repeated observation of cognitive gender differences: male and female brains do process and interpret sensory data differently. Males are inclined to easily recognize imagery, while females tend to prefer information expressed verbally. In plain English, men like pictures, and women like words. Research in brain structure appears to bear this out; if my memory serves me right, parts of the brain used in visual/spatial discrimination are more developed in human males than in human females, while those parts of the brain involved in symbolic/verbal expression are more developed in females than in males.

That could explain men’s and women’s preferences in entertainment; men like illustrated books and magazines, while women prefer novels. When men do write novels, they may give the reader just enough information to construct a simple scenario before moving on with the plot, leaving further details to the reader’s imagination; when women write novels, they may go into lavish, elaborate, lengthy, minute detail on the scenario, painstakingly describing every sight, sound, aroma, texture, taste, mood, attitude, and what-not, moving slowly with the plot. It’s true that there are some men who write lengthy detailed novels and some women who do get right to the point, but the general tendency is as I’ve described.

Now let’s look at the hard sciences, and the tools used in them. Raw data may be collected as numbers, from measurements of any conceivable source — stock market prices, public polling results, student test scores, parts per million of a chemical in an environment, sonar echoes, x-rays from the sun — and rendered in a medium to make them understandable. Without such a medium, the numbers are too abstract. Usually graphic tools are used — diagrams, pie charts, bar histograms, x-y variable graphs with bell curves or other patterns, scattergrams, photographs with details highlighted in “false colors,” and more. In short, visual aids are used to make the numbers more comprehensible, even if the forms of the images have nothing to do with the nature of the phenomena being measured.

Why graphics? Because a majority of the people doing the investigating are men, and men’s brains are wired to respond well to visual stimuli.

Do women grasp data more easily when it’s rendered as imagery? Yes — at least more easily than with data left as raw abstract numbers. Yet the tools, having been fashioned by males, tend to favor male perception. Traditional division of labor in many cultures kept women out of research roles. Imagine a scenario in which women were in the majority in such roles. Such a situation could possibly arise, since at this writing women outnumber men in colleges. Women researchers will work with the tools already available, and fashion a few of their own. But imagine a history in which women had had such roles throughout the development of the sciences. Today the subdiscipline of graphics might not have developed as much as it had, but another subdiscipline favoring female brains might have developed further.

What form might such a subdiscipline take? It’s difficult for me to say. Something verbally oriented? I’d think it would involve proto-verbal symbols and shorthand, but most mathematics is already expressed that way; 1 + 1 = 2, 355 / 113 = 3.141592… and so on. Examples of verbally-expressed relationships abound in our culture, e.g. how big is six billion dollars? Enough to buy electricity to power a household of four for 10,000 years, or New York City for five minutes (please don’t take me to task for wildly inaccurate numbers; I’m just making an arbitrary picture here). That’s a good familiar example of how words make mathematical relationships more comprehensible. But to be useful it would have to be systematic and precise — notice I didn’t mention the going rate per kilowatt-hour, nor other variables that could affect the scenario. It would also have to be streamlined, otherwise reports and textbooks would be unnecessarily long.

At first glance this tool wouldn’t give the instant comprehension, the immediate impact, of a graph (“A picture is worth a thousand words”), but that’s probably my male bias talking. It’s hard to imagine what form a research tool that plays to the cognitive strengths of women would take, but I’m sure it would exist.

3D Printer for Chocolate – Now That’s a Cool Concept and Appropriate Application

As a retired franchisor, I often look at various business models and ask myself if that might be a good business to franchise. Indeed I can’t help it as a former franchisor founder. But then again I suppose everyone thinks a little bit differently based on their experiences in life. Now then, there was something rather cool in the science news the other day, and I first noticed mention of it on Slash Dot (news for geeks). There was a piece about a 3-D printer used for chocolate.

In other words you could go to a store that had a 3-D printer which used chocolate instead of ink. You could decide what type of chocolate shape you wanted, and it would make anything that you desired. Let’s say you wanted a chocolate NASCAR which was 6 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide. You just tell the computer what you wanted, and it would make it. Now that’s pretty cool isn’t it? And that’s a perfect concept, and a decent use of this technology.

Today, 3-D printers are used mostly for fun things, and in the future they will be used for more serious things. Now then, would this make a good franchise store? In other words people can come in who are having parties and order chocolate figures or any shape they wanted for their get-togethers. Let’s say someone was retiring as an airline pilot, you could make chocolate jet airplanes and airliners for the party. How about if your aerospace museum had won the bid to display one of the retired space shuttles? You could make all sorts of chocolate space shuttles for all the guests at the grand opening.

In fact you can make anything you wanted, and a novelty shop like that could have a high profit margin, and it wouldn’t take up very much floor space. Perhaps even a kiosk type business in a mall. It sounds like a decent business to run. Of course, over time event planners and the hospitality industry would be buying these 3-D printers and buying chocolate cartridges to make things themselves. You have to admit this is a really interesting use of technology in the early stages of the development of 3-D printing.

Of course, if you are like me, you love chocolate, and you probably don’t care very much what the shape is do you? I wonder if this 3-D chocolate printer does dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate too – I bet it does, and now I want one. Indeed I hope you will please consider all this and think on it.

Who Can We Thank for the Rapid Advances in Human Technology?

Have you ever wondered who is responsible for the advances in technology? Well on the Private Sector side of things I think a round recognition must go to Futurist Ray Kurzweil for his work, studies and weekly email Newsletter. He is continually promoting the future technologies and the singularity of technology as he calls it. Where technology starts moving so fast that people only remember what was before and what is now – a paradigm shift if you will.

Microsoft Research and other major companies have graciously shared much of their technology, white papers and AI research with the world and this is to be commended and is extremely helpful. One of the greatest joys of my research into technology has been following the ever increasing progression of Artificial Intelligence. Not a week goes by without another breakthrough.

For six years, I have been watching the news alerts, reading scientific journals, trade journals and news articles, the future is coming a lot faster than most people think and there is a wealth of information out there. Indeed it has been at times a little overwhelming, but well worth it. I think everyone who is on the bleeding edge of this science understands that the future is now. But we also need to thank the unsung heroes and the citizen who continually challenges their mind.

For instance my friend Youji Fujoshi who is a huge science enthusiast who exudes information and has spent countless long hours of discussion on Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Androids from ALL the known and available (and some no-longer available) Science Fiction works of authors Arthur C. Clarke, Ben Bova and Isaac Asimov, as well as many other popular science fiction writers.

We need to thank the individuals in our society – the dreamers, Sci Fi writers, scientists, corporations and futurists for propelling the human race forward incrementally to bring us in this place we stand today ready to take the species to the next step.