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About this book

This book discusses how systems thinking and approaches can aid management consultants in navigating the complexities of client advisory in current realities. It thereby brings to the forefront aspects of holism, flexibility and responsibility - the keys to success in today’s world.

Management consultants are called in to offer an independent expert view of an organisation/ a situation and are expected to address some of the most pressing problems businesses face. The client does not exist in a silo, but in a complex environment that lies at the intersection of a range of internal and external factors that are often unseen and unpredictable. The organisation itself presents an alien territory that the consultant is expected to acclimatise to within a very short period of time, and come up with solutions that “insiders” would not have been able to visualise.

The book presents a range of ideas, concepts and reference cases that are relevant and topical for consultants in their daily work. It argues that systems thinking allows holism and flexibility in management consulting – while holism is about the ability to encompass the environmental and organisational complexity, flexibility is about the ability to think creatively and adopt different approaches to accommodate this complexity.

With commentaries, case studies, conceptual models and perspectives that cut across multiple industries, sectors and countries, this book is a valuable resource for academics and professionals alike. The book’s inner pages and its page on Springer.com contain additional comments providing perspectives of clients, industry experts and academia.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

Theoretical Deliberations

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Systems Thinking

Abstract
This book is about systems thinking and insights from my application of the discipline in various sectors such as private industry, public health, professional services and the charitable sector. Systems thinking is also commonly referred to as holistic thinking. Through the deliberations presented in this book, I will take the reader through a journey covering theory, practice and conceptual models. But what is systems thinking? What are its origins? Is it a discipline? And why is it relevant? I will introduce the background and relevance of systems thinking. I will talk about the origins of systems as a concept and broadly present the progression of thinking and arguments that have brought systems thinking to its current state as a major consideration for policymakers, senior management and change agents. Key concepts are introduced, along with a narration on the shift from reductionist thinking to systems thinking. I refer to some seminal work in the field and lead a discussion on the establishment of systems as a discipline.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Chapter 2. Flexibility

Abstract
The need for flexibility and adaptiveness for an organisation or programme in the current age is not a matter of debate. But what is flexibility? How did flexibility become a recognised management concept? What does being flexible in business really mean? This chapter introduces flexibility as a concept and how this can be applied in business and management. I will discuss what flexibility means in different contexts and how it can manifest itself in different forms. Perspectives and experiences from real life cases and experiences are brought into understand the advantage of being flexible and the opportunity-costs associated with inflexibility. Relevance of flexibility in current times will be addressed as an underlying theme as we go ahead with the discussions. Select theories and frameworks in flexible system management are discussed. Finally, we discuss the risks of flexibility and if there should be any limits to flexibility that we may want to consider whilst encouraging flexible systems in our enterprises. I manoeuvre the argument to what I call flexibility with authenticity to create enterprises that can strike a prudent balance without being in danger of sliding into the extreme ends of excessive bureaucracy or chaos.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Chapter 3. Intersection of Systems Thinking and Flexibility: A Methodological Perspective

Abstract
The first two chapters of this book discussed systems thinking and flexibility, and their complementary nature. Managers and consultants who practice systems thinking need to be display flexibility in their thinking, approach and resource mobilisation to bring about real impact in application. Systems thinking offers a holistic lens and leverages flexibility in understanding systemic boundaries. On the other hand, flexibility in thought and action needs a systemic approach, particularly in the consultancy business.This chapter discusses about this intersection between systems thinking and flexibility from a methodological perspective, and understands how this intersection can serve as a valuable reference in management research and application. I will use the term systemic and holistic interchangeably. I will anchor this discussion on traditions of management science research that have influenced several approaches and methodologies for management and community interventions. I will deliberate on select frameworks that bring the intersection between systems and flexibility to life by providing the desired approach that is required to deal with real-life complexity. This understanding will set the tone for the rest of this book.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Case Narratives

Frontmatter

Chapter 4. Healthcare Knowledge Management and Problem Structuring

Abstract
Technology can be of tremendous aid in the capture, recording and retrieval of information. This can lead to direct benefits for improvement in the quality of care, clinical audit, performance management and above all, knowledge management. This chapter shares my experience of application of systems thinking in a mega knowledge management project in the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. This experience was spread through a period of three years and I applied various problem structuring methods during this tenure. The context was the sensitisation and implementation of a knowledge management strategy in the NHS within the ambit of a large healthcare Information Technology (IT) programme. Out of a range of problem structuring methods used in several instances, I will talk about the application of Viable Systems Model (VSM) for an organisational intervention I was part of. My approach to VSM was influenced by critical thinking that drove me to use several qualitative tools to aid in my understanding of the problem situation. The arguments presented here showcase the importance of bringing together the human and the technical aspects as interrelated within the larger system, and not to be regarded as two disparate dimensions.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Chapter 5. From Barriers to Boundaries: Learnings from a Healthcare IT Project Failure

Abstract
In this chapter, I present a case study that describes my experiences of introducing a multilingual patient information system in a UK Primary Care Trust (defined in the previous chapter), the first of its kind in its region of the UK. This technology-based project, commissioned as a pilot for the establishment of an information system to cater to the needs of ethnic minority languages failed to make progress despite its great potential and the user acceptance that it offered. I present a number of issues that I encountered in working under the constraints of a large bureaucratic setup and those related to the design and deployment of the project that I believe resulted in its lack of satisfactory closure. The findings from this case analysis suggest the failure as a direct result of the constraints the system posed resulting in the project to find itself in a state of inflexibility and lack of adaptiveness. I argue that sub-systems in the overall system in focus were treated as opaque setups with artificial barriers around them. Barriers restrict interaction and creativity. I build a case for managers to identify with boundaries, rather than with barriers to overcome such limitations. I will talk about the difference between a barrier-mentality as opposed to a boundary-mentality. Whereas barriers are prohibitive, boundaries are protective.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Chapter 6. Strategic Convergence: Overcoming Differences in a Professional Setup

Abstract
My experience of working in change management in the healthcare setting in the UK during 2003–2006 brought to my notice, amongst other things, the interesting dynamics that exist between clinical and managerial/administrative functions. Discussions in this chapter are reminiscent of some of the references I have made earlier in this book. In Chap. 4, whilst discussing a problem structuring case, I spoke about unclear flow of communication and control within the National Health Service (NHS) in a highly complex and bureaucratic setting. Overlap of roles and responsibilities, clashes in objectives between departments and confusion in success metrics for clinicians set by managers resulted in lack of trust and a sub-optimisation of organisational processes. Stakeholder participation was amiss, clinicians being the key stakeholder cohort. In Chap. 5, whilst discussing the implementation of a multilingual Patient Information Centre (PIC) I talked about a lack of stakeholder involvement and silo working as key factors that led to the failure of the PIC. In this chapter, I will discuss how I deployed select systems methodologies to bring about strategic convergence between clinical and managerial staff in the NHS that was necessary for effective functioning of the system that was going through transformation with new technology deployment. In the context in which I was involved in the NHS, i.e. deployment of the Connecting for Health (CfH), I shall discuss one of my interventions with specific teams within the NHS that led to the creation of a normative approach for healthcare information system (IS). I call the process “strategic convergence” that I have formulated in detail at the end of this chapter. I leveraged two systems methodologies in this process—Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) and Strategic Assumption Surfacing and Testing (SAST)—that I will discuss in detail. After a context setting for the case, I will lead a discussion on the journey that was undertaken.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Chapter 7. Building Systemic Capability in An NGO Setting

Abstract
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are important agencies nestled between formal legislative authorities and the civil society that work to bring about positive change in the society by mobilising financial and technical resources from a competitive common pool. Building systemic capability ensures long-term sustenance for the NGO and also equips them to make the desired impact it sets out to. In this chapter, I will offer a critical reflection of how the Interactive Planning (IP) approach was used in an NGO setting in India to build its systemic capability. The case in point was the Universal Team for Social Action and Help (UTSAH), an NGO that works in the field of child rights and child protection. I was a consultant with between October 2013 and December 2013. UTSAH was in existence for over two-and-half years then. It was at a stage of self-transformation in order to surface as an agency in social action and as an effective voice in the child rights advocacy space, for the future. In order to realise this vision, I worked closely with the organisation to develop a child protection framework to inform its work and put in place a governance structure to enable its service delivery. I first published this case in 2015 with an attempt to describe the intervention undertaken highlighting its participatory and inclusive nature (Chowdhury 2015). Here, I will explore how the element of strategic flexibility was reflected through the process of this intervention and in the framework that was its outcomes. I will also discuss how the approach aligns with the Theory of Change. An emergent critique is also presented that offers a retrospective appreciation of the approach and the framework in the context of holism and flexibility. Deliberations presented here are believed to be beneficial and informative for both academicians and practitioners of systems thinking, and for professionals working in the social impact sector.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Chapter 8. Organisational Collaboration in a Professional Services Firm

Abstract
Organisational collaboration facilitates team engagement, boosts innovation and enhances productivity. Collaboration, as much as it is a function of attitudes and personalities, is equally about the formal and informal structures that an organisation puts in place to operationalise its business. In this chapter, I will share my experience of the application of creative systems thinking and approaches to introduce an organisation structure to facilitate collaboration and more effective leadership practices in a professional service firm in India. At the very outset, it is to be noted that for this intervention, systems methodologies were not used in its purest form, but the systems paradigm was applied to inform the context under consideration to facilitate creativity, inclusiveness and holism in intent and in form. The intervention was undertaken in a Public Relations (PR) firm, Potential PR (pseudonym used for anonymity), keeping in mind productive collaboration within a set of geographically spread out teams to support the organisation’s fast-paced growth. I first published a case study of this intervention in 2011 to highlight key insights from systems thinking that were used in designing and leading the intervention, and key messages that surfaced during and at the end of the intervention (Chowdhury 2011). A range of methodologies in a mix-and-match manner was incorporated with a diverse set of management tools threaded by a system mindset. In this chapter, I will delve into the flexibility aspect of the intervention and discuss how the concept of Requisite Organisation applied in the intervention aligns with systems thinking. Further, I will take the reader through the new initiatives undertaken post the intervention is seeking to enable greater competitiveness of the firm.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Chapter 9. From Restructuring to Optimisation: Enabling a Sales and Marketing Function

Abstract
Changing requirements of the corporate setup lead firms to revisit their own organisations from time to time. Triggers for such changes arise from a range of factors such as cost reduction, diversification or specialisation, business optimisation, technology implementation, talent movements, mergers and acquisitions and consolidation. The organisation structure is the backbone to a corporate setup that immediately needs to adapt and/or evolve to such triggers. In this chapter, I will present a case study of my experience of being part of team that was engaged in restructuring the Sales and Marketing function of a major manufacturing company in India operating in the iron and steel industry in 2013. Our (the consulting team) engagement with the client was a journey where we were called in purely from the intent of rightsizing the organisation with a scientific restructuring methodology. However, our engagement made our mandate transition from a mindset of restructuring to optimisation, from rightsizing to development and from change immediacy to learning orientation.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Chapter 10. A Holistic Approach to Employee Engagement

Abstract
Engaging with employees has always attracted a degree of mystery for corporations and management across the world. The nature of corporations and management styles has evolved over time with more sophisticated workplace understanding, technological developments, and new societal norms and trends. However, the need to touch people to keep them more engaged and eventually more productive has always surfaced newer challenges. Not too long ago, a purely functional approach would have led management to consider employee satisfaction (rather than engagement) as a factor of monetary payouts. This later changed to the inclusion of fun and camaraderie at the workplace as contributing to creating a more satisfying and rewarding work experience. Organisations moved further on to give employees the opportunity to learn and develop as better professionals, partnering with them to give back to the society and even letting employees do what they would like to do where the organisation simply offers the most fertile soil for employees to flourish. Despite a range of academic deliberations and management experimentations, employee engagement still remains a mystery for many. This chapter presents the mainstream discussions and models on employee engagement. I will draw on my experience of working in talent consulting with various clients in different sectors and present a case study of an employee engagement project that I led. My arguments will focus on how we can have a more holistic approach to employee engagement considering the multitude of dimensions that are at play for an individual in an organisation. Challenges, opportunity areas and learning from real-life experience will be presented to bring home the fact that engagement is not a stand-alone concept, but is an integral element for the business.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Chapter 11. Sustainable Urbanisation and Community Engagement

Abstract
Cities are growing at a rapid pace. This pace is fuelled by economic development and an unprecedented migration of people from rural to urban and semi-urban areas. Urban expansion itself creates conditions for further economic development. Urbanisation is not only a spatial and economic phenomenon, but it affects how people live, interact and develop relationships between one another. Urbanisation impacts livelihoods and culture, and shape societies. However, urbanisation has unwanted consequences of congestion, pollution and crime due to the challenges posed by growing number of vehicles, excessive usage of perishable resources, inadequate waste management and unequal access to economic opportunities. Often the concern is that the pace of urbanisation is unsustainable due to challenges going out of control for the people who inhabit and manage urban centres. Creation of sustainable urban centres requires multi-stakeholder engagement. Communities that inhabit urban centres need to be at the heart of such engagements. This chapter draws from my experiences of conceptualising and managing a community engagement programme towards enabling sustainable urbanisation in the city of Bengaluru in Southern India during 2014 and 2015. The programme was sponsored by a leading multinational corporation, and was commissioned keeping in mind sustainable urbanisation as the key business imperative for the company. A multi-stakeholder programme was designed and implemented with the principles of Social Systems Design.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Chapter 12. Electronic Public Health and e-Governance

Abstract
This chapter provides a systemic appreciation of a visionary framework for electronic Public Health (ePH) that I had built in the year 2010 in collaboration Deepankar Medhi, Curators’ Distinguished Professor at the University of Missouri Kansas City (USA) (Chowdhury and Medhi in Systems thinking and E-participation: ICT in the governance of society. Idea Group, Hershey, pp. 69–91, 2010). This framework is in context of enabling e-governance addressing a specific aspect of health and well-being, i.e. Public Health. When complexity is high and the range of interrelationships between various elements is varied and diverse, it is important that any Public Health initiative is able to capture different coexisting factors that influence success, consider the interrelationships between different elements in the environment, and understand how, because of the interrelationships, the system as a whole transforms and evolves. In order to appreciate this, we have resorted to taking a systems perspective in evolving an architectural framework for the ePH. The understanding draws heavily from the Indian context as the country presents an interesting array of the challenges that we have mentioned above. Furthermore, rather than being drawn from existing ICT, our proposed approach is visionary and forward-thinking in terms of what we want to see in future ICT in order to enable the ePH. India is also on the verge of significant change in terms of ICT in public services and related e-governance initiatives. The framework that is proposed will not only be relevant to India, but learning from this can also be inferred for other countries with a similar environment. The conceptual ePH remains visionary and relevant in the current times in the absence of any such solutions that we articulated in 2010. In this chapter, I will delve deeper into the nuances of putting in place such a system both from conceptual and implementation perspectives, and lead a discussion on how the ePH can be positioned in the scheme of e-governance. My discussion here will be contextualised for India and my deliberations will keep in mind the nuances and realities specific to this context.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Chapter 13. Micro-insurance and Community Engagement

Abstract
In 2018, I published a paper with Dr. Nihar Jangle (Advisor, Climate Risk Insurance, GIZ Germany) in the Global Journal of Flexible Systems Management, in which we introduced a conceptual framework for the application of Critical Systems Thinking (CST) in micro-insurance from a community engagement perspective (Chowdhury and Jangle in Global Journal of Flexible Systems Management 19:209–224, 2018). This followed an overall literature research that revealed that there was no previous research on approaching micro-insurance from a CST perspective; neither was there any evidence of the formal application of CST in design and implementation of micro-insurance schemes. Our framework was inspired by flexibility in systems design. Application of CST enables the system to be consciously agile and flexible so that it is adaptive and sustainable for the long run. We took the micro-insurance deployment model of the Micro-insurance Academy (MIA) in India as a reference for our work. The case in discussion here is community-based micro-insurance. Community-led insurance models facilitate creation of a monetary corpus that can support families against unforeseen circumstances. The community underpins the success or failure of such models due to their very nature of operations. CST can lend a strong perspective for design and implementation of community engagement frameworks for micro-insurance due to its focus on challenging boundaries, application of flexible intervention methods and the innate desire to work towards the betterment of people. In this chapter, I will present a critique of the arguments put forward in the paper mentioned above. I shall revisit the conceptual model that was earlier proposed in light of more recent deliberations I have had with the Founder of MIA, Dr. David Dror, and his colleagues. My discussions in this chapter will highlight a more qualified case for community engagement in micro-insurance; I will also discuss how the existing MIA model brings together a seamless combination of both hard and soft systems to address some of the most pressing socio-economic issues that exist in rural India. My discussions will reiterate the necessity of a CST approach for successful community-based micro-insurance schemes.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Consulting Considerations

Frontmatter

Chapter 14. Holistic Flexibility

Abstract
This chapter is in a way a culmination of my thinking as a management systems consultant working in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Being formally trained with a higher degree in systems thinking and practice (which is not common) and having been exposed to a variety of situations where I have had the opportunity to apply the same, I realised that the systems approach exists at the intersection of holism and flexibility. This intersection has been manifested in the various case studies and conceptual frameworks that I have presented in this book. As a management consultant, I have come to realise certain key tenets of holistic thinking and flexibility that play an active role in bringing this intersection to life in an effective manner. I call this dynamic interplay “holistic flexibility”. In this chapter, I will define the concept of holistic flexibility and reflect on how the same needs to be regarded as an important consideration for systems consultants. A previous attempt has been made by Sushil and Chroust (2015) that can be considered close to the conceptual model I have presented here. Their work on “systemic flexibility” and business agility draws on a range of research and case applications in various types of flexibility and agility in business that has been published as an edited book (Sushil and Chroust 2015). My discussions here attempt to create an independent model for the concept of what I call holistic flexibility that, although draws learning from Sushil and Chroust (2015), is a distinct addition to the discipline of systems thinking.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Chapter 15. Social Impact

Abstract
I refer to The Ross School of Business (University of Michigan) definition of the term social impact as “a significant, positive change that addresses a pressing social challenge… having a social impact is the result of a deliberate set of activities with a goal around this definition”. Having been through the journey of working with organisations in this space, observing social activism events that are underway in the world and having understood select social impact models and consulting frameworks, in this chapter I will highlight some of the key considerations that social impact consultants need to bear in mind. I will argue for collaborative dialogue between change agents and cross-pollination of ideas as important elements for successful social impact interventions. This chapter does not intend to craft solutions for the management challenges for social impact organisations, neither does it intend to create a framework for systems intervention for social impact. It will rather make an attempt to place social impact intervention as a collective effort in the systemic context. I will argue for the case of holistic thinking and flexibility if social impact interventions are to be led to deliver to address “pressing social challenges” as put forward in the definition with which I began this chapter.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Chapter 16. Organisational Development

Abstract
Organisational Development (OD) is a systemic discipline that brings together diverse functions in an organisation within the consideration set of external factors, to design, implement and sustain business-focused interventions with people at its centre. OD initiatives are heavy on both strategy and implementation, and are often led by an external consultant with senior management sponsorship within the organisation. Given its focus on the people function, OD initiatives have significant involvement from the Human Resources (HR) with cross-departmental representation as part of an extended sponsor team. Success in OD interventions has several imperatives—the ability to systemically comprehend and approach transformation, creation and customisation of established frameworks and models for specific organisational and/or sectoral contexts, and the ability of the consultant to lead the change journey. This chapter intends to shed some light on these imperatives from a consultant’s standpoint. I will bring in my experiences from my OD consulting work through the discussion to bring my arguments to life.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Chapter 17. Corporate Reputation

Abstract
Reputation is a belief or an impression that is held about an organisation, and bears both psychological and social connotations. Today’s dynamic world has brought in a new reality for corporations that pose a range of challenges and opportunities for creation or even destruction of reputation. Corporations have to manage a complex reality of heightened customer demands, civil society expectations, a 24 * 7 news cycle, live social media, regulatory crackdown, cyber threats, an empowered employee voice and citizen journalism (the list can go on) that present unprecedented pressures on an organisation for it to navigate through in a sensible manner. Corporate reputation management has emerged as a specialised discipline to guide and support organisations pre-empt, prepare and respond to the dynamic environment they exist in so that its business interest can be safeguarded in the long run. For a long time, corporate reputation may have been about image management where Public Relations (PR) firms would devise tactics to ensure that the right kinds of perceptions are created about the organisation in the eyes of the public. However, greater public awareness and sensitivity have ensured that corporate reputation does not remain an image management gimmick, but is considered as a core business imperative that needs to be reflected in an organisation’s ethos and spirit. In this chapter, I intend to share my perspectives on corporate reputation management. This will include why it is more important to think reputation now than ever before and how a systemic approach to reputation management can be adopted by consultants working in this field.
Rajneesh Chowdhury

Backmatter

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