• Philip Dukas

Adding systems thinking to our strategic quiver

Updated: Mar 9

As environmentalists we are taught, and learn about 'ecosystems' which comprise of living organisms and non-living components interacting as a 'system'. We are also taught (in conjunction) the skill of Analytical Thinking: ‘understanding what makes up the various parts of any given topic in question?’


Yet seldom are we ever taught about systems thinking – an obvious and valuable correlation?


‘Systems thinking’ is a holistic approach to thinking that focuses on the way that a system's constituent parts interrelate, and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems.


Having the skill of systems thinking in our quiver, allows us to apply different modes of thinking in different situations and enables us to know when best to apply analysis or systems thinking (or both) to our work, as each has their time and place.


If we apply this approach to strategy, through a casual loop diagram model - we may ask ourselves, for example:


“What does a strategic management system have an impact on?” (Or put differently - why develop a strategic management system?)


Here are some reasons, I’m sure you can come up with more:

  • To make a real and positive impact: Ultimately, a good strategic management system enables an organization to achieve their vision and realize their purpose (mission). This in the environmental and social sectors means an increase in accumulated positive impacts.

  • Sustainability: A good strategic management system increases the prospect of an organization achieving both a viable and sustainable state operations and ensures that an organization has thought about, made choices and put in place plans that span a medium and long term horizon. This enables an organization to invest in future opportunities, whilst delivering on immediate demands.

  • Innovation: A good strategic management system enables an organizational culture that stimulates ideas which lead to innovative thinking and creation.

  • Employee engagement: A good strategic management system can increase an organizations employee engagement and morale through providing clear direction and focus on where the organization is headed and an increase in employee engagement leads to an increase in organizational performance.

  • Increased performance: Developing a strategic management system will increase an organizations all-round performance (performance being inclusive of people, society, financial, environmental and manufactured).

  • High performing talent: A good strategic management system will also attract and retain high performing employees and stakeholders that fit the organizations culture and who want to partner with a successful organization.

  • Stakeholder confidence: A good strategic management system boosts stakeholder perceptions, confidence, trust and support.

Similarly one may ask: “What has an impact on developing a strategic management system?”


Here are a few points, once again I’m sure you could come up with more:

  • Diversity of involvement: Ensuring that the right mix (diversity) of people are involved in developing a strategic management system.

  • Training and development: The quality of both individual and organizational training and development with regards to strategy.

  • Simplified processes: Ensuring a strategic management system is both holistic and practical is essential in introducing and developing an integrated strategic management system.

  • Employee engagement: Ensuring that employees are engaged throughout the development of a strategic management system will improve their buy-in, support and ownership of the strategy when it comes to implementation.

  • Quality information: The relevance and reliability of adequate data to inform decision making is critical to making the right informed choices.

  • Time: It is essential to put aside adequate time to understand, introduce and develop an integrated strategic management system, this is not a quick fix solution and requires commitment and dedication.

Systems thinking can add immense value to people and organizations as part of strategic development and allows us to see things from a different perspective other than that which we’re used to.


“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein


At Adaptera, we empower people and organizations in the environmental and social sectors to understand and apply systems thinking in a relevant and practical way. Visit: www.adaptera.co.za to learn more about our approach to supporting organizations in developing a holistic, yet practical strategic management system.



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