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For many years the  Gallup-Institute has been conducting their annual study, the so-called "Gallup Engagement Index", and in the process has come up with an almost stable result : Around 90% of all employees do not feel any, not even slight, allegiance to the company they work for. A large number of those interviewed said they  "worked to rule" by choice, others said they had no choice in the matter.

How can that be? How can this obviously untapped potential be captured and put to use? And which contribution can Systemic Personnel and Organisational Development make to do just that?

Whether it is in the compilation of a comprehensive Personnel Development Concept for your company, or in the support and moderation of an Organisational Development Project  I always orient myself in my consulting work towards the systemic idea of “thinking together”.

There are at least two good reasons for thinking together in Systemic Personnel  & Organisational Development  (PD/OD) :

  • Problems are context-bound. Systemic PD/OD integrates the context and associates it with the observed problem. This sometimes makes things more complicated. If we respond to non-trivial things with trivial answers that too is a context which also engenders the “work to rule” attitude, thereby making it more likely to occur.
  • Systemic PD/OD means, to jointly ( in the sense of “together”) think about the problem and together discuss and hone solutions. This calls for those who are considered to be involved in the problem to participate in the solution process. This makes “working to rule” more difficult.

How then do we plan PD/OD measures and how do we structure HR processes?

There is good reason to continue to adhere to the idea of “man as a trivial machine” rather than as a “non-trivial machine”. For example: When sales figures are down we react by setting up a Development Centre for the Sales Department. Rising costs lead to more controlling, to combat quality problems we call in Executive Support teams and wranglers are sent off to Conflict Management seminars. Not that all of that would not be justified.

If we respond to non-trivial things with trivial answers, then that is in itself a context in which those people concerned react most probably with “work-to-rule” rather than  developing their full scope of commitment and creativity.

In my PD/OD Consulting Projects these central themes lead to other ideas about how “development” can take place in organisations.

Should you be interested in the distinction between the trivial versus the non-trivial machine you will find more information here: 



A Digression: Trivial versus Non-Trivial 

When people speak about a company they often use the “machine” metaphor. Companies become “steamers”, managers “captains”, and how a company “ticks” says something about its “machinery” and its “works”  (into which a spanner may sometimes find its way).
 This metaphor can also be found in the language of PD/OD : This is where "programmes" are created through which the participants can be  "channelled". Change "designs" are developed, "work-flows" outlined, the search is on for the right “adjustment screw” for fine-tuning, and career opportunities are planned. 

It was Heinz von Förster who gave us the differentiation between the so-called "trivial machines" and "non-trivial machines". While trivial machines (e.g. a pocket calculator), given the same input, reliably and predictably provide us with the same output, it is not the case with “non-trivial machines”. Non-trivial machines function much like a machine-in-a-machine and their internal operations do not allow for predictions about the output. Heinz von Förster points out that people could function like non-trivial machines which would make it very difficult to predict the output resulting from a given input. Von Förster takes it a step further by saying: In his view we may well portray ourselves as “non-trivial”, but have no qualms about labelling others as “trivial machines”.