New Trends Affecting How We Shop and Work

Change. We’ve all experienced a tremendous amount in the past year and a half thanks to the pandemic. New trends in how we shop and work have taken hold and may become the “new normal”, especially since the pandemic is still not over. The Delta variant to #COVID-19 as well as other variants, continue to spread across the globe altering how we live and work.

What have we learned from 2020?

photo of exercise balls and dumb bells

One of the new trends people learned is how to search and shop online. That trend is now a permanent way of buying goods and services. People who never explored online shopping, except for perhaps Amazon, learned to shop online for just about anything from groceries, to home gym equipment, and easy, relaxed clothing. While many people are eager to get back to shopping in person, they have higher expectations of the retailers. We do still want to touch and feel the products we buy. That’s an advantage a physical location provides, However, the experience has to be a good one or we’ll go elsewhere. Consumers now expect the same products to be available both online and in physical stores. According to research by the Marketing Insider Group, “options and immediate availability will be key.” So will proper safety procedures. We now expect to see hand sanitizer stations around the stores and will look for canisters of sanitizer wipes to clean the carts. Until pandemic threats are reduced dramatically, consumers will be wary and watching to see how well in-store personnel follow safety procedures.

Some Businesses Thrived

Another new trend we found was that businesses that pivoted and were creative in delivering products and services during periods of shutdown actually thrived. Consumers still needed to shop for groceries and craved getting food prepared by their favorite restaurants. The difference was they were ordering online or via phone and picking it up to go. A new Acronym developed called BOPUS (Buy Online, Pick Up In Store). A local mead producer in our area created “date night experiences”. They teamed up with other local businesses to provide an experience that included appetizers, locally made bread, wine or mead, and flowers. Another local restaurant chef chose 2020 to launch one of her dreams. She now offers chef-prepared meals that she ships nationwide. Just pop it in the oven to warm it up, and presto, you have a 5-star meal prepared by a well-known chef.

Consumer Loyalty is gone.

A change in consumer loyalty is a third trend we’ve seen. Whereas pre-pandemic consumers tended to shop their favorite brands, during the pandemic, they started exploring other options. Across all generations, people explored and shopped at least five new brands online. According to Raydiant’s State of Consumer Behavior 2021, 25% of consumers reported they switched brands more frequently during the pandemic than before. Thanks to increased conveniences like faster delivery and more choice, consumers found better options when searching online. That behavior will probably be permanent.

Home is Where Everything Happens

Another new trend the Marketing Insider Group found is that the “home is now the hub of where all things happen”. We purchased gym equipment to stay active and physically fit at home. We bought comfortable, relaxed athletic clothing for work and play. Those who began working from home, and still do, equipped their home offices the necessary technology. Zoom meetings became a daily staple for all of us. That meant we needed webcams and headsets attached to our computers. I recall at one point early in 2020 when it was impossible to find webcams. Now, while we may be going out a bit more, and work may be more of a hybrid situation, more of us still plan to work from home. 

The new trend towards more remote work will continue as the pandemic eases and the world tries to find a new normal. This trend may be balanced with hybrid work situations where staff come into the office one or two days a week and work from home the rest of the time. Others will simply work from home on a permanent basis depending on their work situation. This certainly appeals to many younger workers who value work flexibility based on project deadlines rather than an 8 to 5 work routine. 

Worker Shortage is an Ongong Challenge

The big challenge that may carry over into 2022 is finding enough workers. In 2020, many older workers chose retirement, and other employment-age people either prefer only to work remotely or have moved away. A few restaurants in our area have to close one or two days during the week or several hours each day because they can’t cover the shifts. Others are offering steep signing bonuses and creative incentives to attract workers. The workforce shortage is happening across all industries and in all areas.

Employers will have to get creative to re-design how work is done and new ways to still serve customers well with fewer employees. A new trend caused by this worker shortage is the hiring of more gig and contract workers to fill the void. Other businesses are incorporating more flexibility in work hours, projects and cross-training. These may present challenges for HR departments as they evaluate performance management processes and benefit options (see 9Future of Work Trends Post-COVID-19). It may no longer be effective to have a one size fits all performance review system. 

Employees Care About Branding and Reputation

A June 25, 2021 blog by Glassdoor states that branding and reputation are important for employees and job seekers. The blog states that 86% said they research company reviews and ratings when deciding where to apply for a job.

The article also states a new trend indicating that three factors are most important for employee satisfaction: a compelling company mission, promoting transparent and empathic leaders, and building clear career opportunities.

According to a Gartner report, other key areas employees and job seekers check include the following:

1) how well employers treated their employees both during and post-pandemic, 2) how openly and frequently management communicated with employees, and
3) whether or not executives shared in the financial impacts of the pandemic versus the broader employee base.

Key Takeaways

Clearly, the world of work has changed and employers need to adjust. Key takeaways from these new trends are:

  • Consumers have higher expectations and want the same products available online as well as in-store
  • Customer service is important and consumers will stop buying based on one bad experience
  • An online presence is more important now than ever before
  • Flexible work environments that include hybrid work are important for workers as well as employer transparency and reputations
  • Employers need to reinvent workflows and introduce cross training
  • HR departments need to reevaluate payroll, benefits, and performance management systems

Stages of Change Can Be Challenging

The only constant in life is change. And it’s so true! Every project you take on, regardless of size or scope, creates a change in the status quo. That kicks off several stages of change that result in a series of predictable emotions and behaviors.

We talk a great deal about change in our practice. Sometimes they’re easy changes, ones you look forward to, such as getting a promotion or moving into a new job at another company. But you still go through all the stages of change similar to the Kübler-Ross Stages of Grief – shock/loss, denial, bargaining/acceptance, sadness/depression (the hang-in point), and finally acceptance and even excitement about the new reality.

Stages of Change Have Predictable Behaviors

Job Promotion Can Be Scary

Think about the change of moving into a new, challenging job. You go through a sense of loss because you lose your colleagues in the department or company you’re leaving. You may experience a little denial, telling yourself it’s time to move on and you won’t miss your colleagues.

You may experience sadness about the memories and friends you left behind. Then you accept the reality of the change – you’re moving on, it’s a little scary because you don’t know what to expect in the new position.

You’ll be meeting new people and having to figure out how to work together. If it’s a new management position, you have the challenge of learning how to delegate and manage others. Then as you think about the challenges ahead, you begin to see the possibilities and start focusing on the new challenges you’re taking on.

And finally, as you adjust to the new position and get to know your team and your colleagues, you begin to feel excitement and passion for taking on the challenges and helping the organization move forward.

Change Happens Differently for Each Person

Depending on your circumstances, you can go through these emotions quickly, in a matter of minutes or hours, or it may take days for you to cycle through the stages of change. If the new position is something you pursued, you’ll likely move through the stages of change quickly. If it’s something that happened to you and not one you actively sought, then the adjustment could take longer – even weeks or months.

Frequently, especially when people aren’t involved in creating the change and instead are just told about it, a few will never adjust. They can move between the states of depression and anger for months or longer (the hang-in point), unless the manager is skilled at either coaching them through the emotions or invites them to find alternative employment.

Sometimes, the people remove themselves to find other employment options more suited to them. Either way, the organization suffers if these individuals are allowed to remain in a state of anger or depression. They can turn a positive environment into a negative one, putting a blanket of confusion, doubt and concern on the change process.

Leaders Need to Be Coaches

As a leader it’s important to recognize where your people are in each of the stages of change and coach them through their emotions. Your goal is to get as many of them to the other side of the emotional roller coaster as soon as possible, and to quickly remove those who just can’t get on board.

If you need help with this process, let us know. We have many resources available to help you coach your team through the stages of change.

Millennials Will Change the World

Oh to be young again!

When I watch Ted Talk videos by Millennials who are smart, confident and know what direction they want to take with their lives, I wish I were 30 years younger to share in that future. WOW! I mean, really, WOW!

Stacey Ferreira - Millennials are ScrewedThese young people like Stacey Ferreira have it together. They aren’t stupid or lazy. They have different expectations based on the world they’re exposed to. These Millennials have a different outlook on work/life balance. They want to be productive. Millennials want to have an impact on changing what doesn’t work. They aren’t afraid to share their opinions and ideas with top executives. If you don’t like what they have to say, so be it. If you do, use it. These 2 billion Millennials are out to change the world.

That’s so different from when I was starting my career. Those were the days of learning corporate gamesmanship. Remember the book, “Games Mother Never Taught You”? It’s about all the terminology women need to know and the game-playing that goes on in traditional corporate workplaces run predominantly by men. That was about understanding the football and baseball strategies and terms and applying them to what was happening in the work place. If you wanted to get ahead, you learned to play those games. And I got so tired of it. What a waste of time!

Millennials have a totally different outlook. It’s not about who plays the game best, it’s about doing it together to improve the product or strategy or workplace or world. These are collaborators, working together in open offices, not turf warriors protecting their kingdoms. I would love to play in that world instead of the one I grew up in.

But the future is about the younger generation. We adults who have been there and done it differently, need to stand aside and support them, nurture their creative spirits, and help where we can.

What an amazing generation this is!

Getting Through the Peaks and Valleys of life

Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Peaks and Valleys are normal and natural in life and work. Create a sensible vision using all five senses and then follow it to move out of the Valleys. When in a valley, ask yourself: “What is the truth about this reality?” To stay longer at the Peak, find ways to be of greater service to others and more loving to your family and friends.

As I was re-reading Dr. Spencer Johnson’s book, Peaks and Valleys: Making Good and Bad Times Work for You, I reflected on where we are in our work and life journey. We haven’t achieved as much as I had hoped we would have by now. For example, we aren’t living our dream of two-month long sailing trips twice a year on our own boat or through chartering.

Male Gambel's QuailThen I looked at what we have achieved: we have a less stressful life. We have wonderful friends whom we see and talk with often. We are living close to nature, albeit not the nature I had imagined. But we are surrounded by bunnies, lovely Gambel’s quail, roadrunners, dogs, cattle and horses. The high mountain desert does have its seasons. The air quality is clear and the night skies are amazing. The surrounding red rock formations are stunning. We can actually see the thousands of stars which we couldn’t see in San Diego.

Could things be better? Sure! But that’s the future we can still create for ourselves. Johnson’s book reminded me that life is full of Peaks and Valleys. It’s how we manage our journey through the Valleys that makes it possible to enjoy more time on the Peaks.

One of the gems I was reminded of is that we create our own reality. So if we only focus on the negatives while we’re in the Valleys, we stay there longer. I’m reminded of another book, “Before You Think Another Thought”, by Dr. Bruce I. Doyle, III. In it he says that our thoughts are energy. Every thought we have is sent out into the universe and becomes a reality for us. So if we only think negative thoughts about how difficult or unfair life is or how unhappy we are with our current job or life circumstances, then we continue to create that reality. If, on the other hand, we stop to think “what is the lesson to be learned here” or “how might this reality be different,” we are taking stock of our situation and facing the truth of that reality.

That opens up the mind for more creative thinking about how we might change our circumstances to create a better reality. We start “doing” what we need to do to create that better reality, and before we know it, we are on a Peak again. Until we take responsibility for our current situation, and face the truth of how we got there, we aren’t ready to think differently in order to DO the work that will create the change.

Tget Peaks and Valleys on Amazonhese are powerful concepts to keep in mind. Here are some additional tips I garnered from the Peaks and Valleys book:

  • Create and follow your Sensible Vision using all 5 senses. This creates the Peaks in your life (you need to be able to see, hear, feel, taste and smell this vision – feel it in your bones)
  • Manage your way through Valleys to stay longer on the Peaks
  • Make reality your friend. Face your truths and fears.
  • When you’re in a Valley, ask yourself, “What is the truth in this?”
  • When in a Valley, imagine what you might see when you’re on a Peak (what might be possible and different when you reach the Peak?)
  • You need to feel and live the Peaks and Valleys. These are normal parts of everyday life and work
  • Your Valleys are opportunities to grow and learn

And here’s the final nugget of truth:
“You get out of a Valley sooner when you manage to get outside yourself: at work, by being of greater service, and in life, by being more loving.”

I plan to re-read this book at least once a year from now on, especially when I find myself going through or stuck in a Valley. It’s a good reminder of what I need to do to get through that Valley to the Peak that lies ahead.

Change is difficult

By Jeri Denniston, Denner Group International November 12,2014

A World Gone SocialI’m reading A World Gone Social by Ted Coiné and Michael Babbit, and it grabs you in the first few pages. Right at the start the authors give several examples of how social media is creating a sea change in how companies operate. It has caused major challenges for many companies, including two well-known companies, Abercrombie & Fitch and Barilla (known for their pasta). Both situations were the result of comments by the CEOs which before social media would have gone largely unnoticed by most people.

The A&F CEO candidly commented in a 2006 interview that “In every school there are the cool kids and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids…..we go after the cool kids.” By 2013, the company had experienced seven consecutive quarters of declining sales and declining stock value, and angry consumers were buying used A&F clothing and donating it to the homeless in support of a hashtag campaign, #FitchtheHomeless. This year, the CEO was asked to step down and the company is looking for a buyer.

On the other extreme, the generosity of a New Hampshire Panera restaurant manager has resulted in a 34 percent increase in same store sales, more than 800,000 likes on their Facebook page, and nearly 35,000 comments. This, because of a Facebook post by the mother of Brandon Cook, who contacted the Panera  manager to see if he could buy a bowl of clam chowder for his grandmother who was dying of cancer.

Here is the Facebook post Brandon’s mother shared on Panera’s Facebook page copied from the book, A World Gone Social:

My grandmother is passing soon with cancer. I visited her the other day and she was telling me about how she really wanted soup, but not hospital soup because she said it tasted “awful”; she went on about how she really would like some clam chowder from Panera. Unfortunately, Panera only sells clam chowder on Friday. I called the manager, Sue, and told them the situation. I wasn’t looking for anything special just a bowl of clam chowder. Without hesitation she said absolutely she would maker her some clam chowder. When I went to pick it up they wound up giving me a box of cookies as well. It’s not that big of a deal to most, but to my grandma it meant a lot. I really want to thank Sue and the rest of the staff from Panera in Nashua, NH just for making my grandmother happy.  Thank you so much!

It makes you all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn’t it? All because the Panera manager did something nice that was not part of store policy or on the menu for that day and it was shared on Facebook.

Social media has had and continues to have major impacts on how people communicate. The consumer now has the power and the voice, thanks to social media. It brings in the human side of business and enables the average consumer to influence their peers and talk directly to executives. without the traditional political barriers of old.

This change is difficult for CEOs and executives who are stuck in the days of how we always did it before.  Top-down command and control is not longer effective nor efficient.  Thanks to our digital world, knowledge (and the power that goes with it) is available to anyone willing to do a Google search – it is no longer limited to the few at the top of the corporation. According to Coiné who participated in one of the World Strategy Week panels last week, companies that fail to embrace social will be gone in three years. The old ways just don’t work anymore and resisting the change is just stubborn arrogance, something that was beautifully displayed off the Irish coast in 1998. Many of us have heard this story before, but it’s worth repeating:

Irish: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the south, to avoid a collision
British: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision.
Irish: Negative. Divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.
British: This is the captain of a British navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.

Irish: Negative. I say again, you will have to divert YOUR course.
British: This is the aircraft carrier HMS Britannia! We are the second largest ship in the British Atlantic fleet.  We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers, and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees north. I say again, that is 15 degrees north, or countermeasures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship and her crew.
Irish: We are a lighthouse. Your call.


A Lesson in Change – Saving the St. Lucia Parrot

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International   11/19/2011

Takeaways: Changing people’s actions requires changing how they identify with the change. This can be done using the identity or the consequences model.

St. Lucia ParrotThe St. Lucia parrot has a vivid turquoise blue face, lime green wings and a  beautiful red shield on its breast. It exists only on St. Lucia, where the people frequently ate it or used it as a pet. By 1977, there were only 100 in existence.

In their book, Switch, Chip and Dan Heath give the example of Paul Butler who succeeded in bringing the St. Lucia Parrot from the brink of extinction to nearly 700 parrots. In the process he changed St. Lucians’ attitudes about the parrot from one of disinterest to one of national pride and identity. On the heels of that success, he moved from St. Lucia to St. Vincent to replicate the process, saving the St. Vincent parrot from near extinction as well.

How did he do this?

According to the authors, one way to motivate people to “switch” is to shrink the change, making people feel “big” in comparison to the issue at hand. But in Butler’s case, he grew the people. The challenge was huge. He focused on making the people proud of their parrot, a bird that exists only on the island nation of St. Lucia.

Research by James March, a political science professor at Stanford University, confirms that when people make choices, they do so based on one of two models of decision making: the consequences model or the identity model.

The consequences model weighs the cost vs. benefits of choosing a particular option and selecting the one that creates the most satisfaction.

The identity model, on the other hand, is based on answering three questions: Who am I?  What kind of situation is this? What would someone like me do in this situation? There is no consideration of costs or benefits. Instead the focus is on changing a person’s identity or what that person identifies with.

In the case of the St. Lucia parrot, the change was from disinterest in the bird’s plight to one of pride in their identity symbolized by the parrot. It didn’t happen overnight – in fact it took several years.

This example is useful as it relates to changing an organization’s culture. To change the culture, you need to change people’s attitudes and behavior. You need to capture their hearts and change how they identify with the organization. To do so, you need to use the identity model of change – to make the change a matter of identity rather than consequence. 

This means answering the question: What’s In It For Me? Every person in the organization evaluates new processes and procedures based on the answer to this question. By showing the staff in the organization how the new process or procedure will benefit as a member of the organization, you change how they identify with the organization and its operations. The consequences model might also apply depending on the situation.

3 Business Warning Signs It’s Time to Act

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International 6-8-2012

Takeaways: Not listening to customers, fewer new products, and bottom line challenges are three business warning signs your company needs an overhaul. It’s time to take action.

It’s easy to get complacent when times are good. Your business is growing. You’re attracting new customers. And the bottom line is healthy. But when times are tough, you need to take a good look at where your revenues are coming from. Too often, leaders don’t recognize the warning signs that it’s time to act decisively.

Fewer new products

This is the first sign of danger when your people are having a more difficult time coming up with new ways to make your product offerings better. Instead of major improvements, the enhancements are smaller and smaller – such as changing the design of the product packaging without changing the product itself.

You aren’t listening to your CustomersBusiness warning sign: not listening to customers

One of the first business warning signs: When you stop asking your customers for their feedback, you’re starting down a dangerous path. Your customers, especially loyal ones, will be happy to tell you what they do and don’t like about your products. They’ll even offer suggestions about change they would like to see. If you aren’t listening to them and acting on what you hear, you’re missing a major life of defense. It’s easier and more cost effective to retain current customers than it is to acquire new ones.

Bottom Line challenges

When you begin to see problems in your financials or performance indicators, such as increased expenses compared to reduced revenues or higher customer complaints, it’s time to make changes. If you’re not providing added value to your customers, they’ll look elsewhere for solutions. This is another of the business warning signs.

Listen to your front line staff who deal directly with the customer and trust them to make suggestions and course corrections. Make them accountable for their actions and track results closely. It’s OK to make mistakes – that’s part of learning what works and what doesn’t.  But don’t continue down the path of denial with blinders on.

You may wake up to find the competition eating your lunch!

Understanding Change as a Game We Play

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International 

 Takeaways:  Change is one of many games we humans play.  Games have similar characteristics, including purpose, rules, time boundaries, spatial parameters, roles, and prizes.

Leadingat the Edge of ChaosIn his book, Leading at the Edge of Chaos: How to Create the Nimble Organization, Daryl R. Connor describes change management as yet one of many games humans play. All our games, he says, have certain characteristics in common:

  •  Purpose – they all have a point regardless of whether they are frivolous or serious.
  • Rules – they all have explicit or implicit directions for how to play. Implicit may be the unspoken rules around friendship, for example.
  • Time boundaries – some are brief and others take a long time. Personal development, for example, is a life-long process.
  • Spatial parameters – some games are played in a small physical space, such as your computer, or in a large workspace, like offices or the global marketplace
  • Prizes – all games have rewards of one kind or another, whether it’s a promotion and salary increase or a ranking as winner
  • Intensity – some games are fun; others serious, such as competing for a hard-get customer
  • Emotional reactions – some games are pleasurable, such as achieving financial success, or mere obligations, such as paying taxes.
  • Prescribed number of players – some games are played with older or younger people, or they may be solitary, such as meditation or prayer.
  • Intentionality – participation in some games is conscious, such as dating, while in others it may be totally unconscious, such as intimidating coworkers.
  • Language – most games use terms or symbols to convey specific meanings that are only relevant within a specific context, such as might be created when a team comes together to focus on an innovative new product or idea.
  • Roles – most games include roles everyone plays; there’s always a leader and other types of participants, such as spectators, rookies, experts, or artists.

Managing Change

If we look at managing change from the perspective of gamesmanship, we see that this is just another game we play, and it incorporates all the elements described above. As the pace of change continues to increase, organizations find they must be continually changing to keep up or stay ahead of the competition. This requires leaders at all levels who are nimble and understand how to play this game.

Because businesses and organizations of all types are continually changing and have been doing so “for as long we humans have been building hierarchical structures”, says Connor, the game of managing change has become more and more sophisticated. A new paradigm has been born that forces us to look at this managing change game from a new perspective.

According to Connor, paradigms are created as a response to people trying to make sense of the world around them. So as the world has continued to change and humans try to understand the implications of these changes, new questions and challenges arise, creating a new paradigm.

Ten years ago, for example, few people anticipated the impact the smart phone would have on daily lives. Yet society globally has become more and more mobile, and people are doing more shopping and internet browsing from their phones rather than their desktop computers. This has, and will continue to create, dramatic implications for businesses of all types. It has implications for broadband service providers and cable companies. It has implications for organizations selling their products and services online. It has implications for retailers with physical store locations as shoppers scan QR and bar codes in the store to find better pricing elsewhere.

Yet, despite this consumer trend, fewer than 5% of all websites today are mobile phone friendly, let alone tablet friendly. This is a new paradigm shift in the global marketplace game.

As leaders we need to stay abreast of these trends and consider the implications they have for our own businesses. Are we still trying to use the old set of rules to play in this new sandbox? Or are we adapting and changing the rules of the game to meet these new challenges?

Mobile smart phones and tablets have altered the global marketplace. What are you doing to meet this new challenge in order to play in this new game space? 

Using Systems Thinking to Shift Culture

By Eric A Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International    11-18-2011

Takeaways: Systems Thinking is an excellent tool to stay ahead of changes in the world around us. Understanding and applying it in organizations improves communication, reduces unintended consequences, and changes the internal culture.

What is Systems Thinking and why should it be important to ALL business people? The easy answer is that it’s the way the natural world works. The more difficult answer is that it means looking at organizations as living systems existing within a universe of nested systems. In the USA we have deliberately been educating ourselves and others to focus almost exclusively on analytic or tactical thinking. This has been to the detriment of using or building our abilities to think strategically, which is, in fact, thinking systemically.

The answer to WHY it should be important to any of us is that in our environment of increasingly rapid change, we absolutely must have long-term strategies that keep us focused on long-term outcomes and that also permit and support us in making the tactical adjustments to stay on track.  In essence, this means managing a business with strategic intent and operational flexibility. Sounds straightforward right? It really is, but it does take some skill, and more importantly some discipline, in applying strategic and tactical thinking correctly to address and solve problems.

This does not mean we have to change how we think about everything all the time. It means we need to learn and practice thinking strategically and systemically, and know how and when to do so.

Having formed or altered our culture to make it unimportant to think strategically, we have only begun to learn how to think this way to enhance our business management over the past 60 years or so. Management thought leaders agree that only during the last 20 years has Systems Thinking begun to be acknowledged as one of the most important skills that managers and leaders at all levels of an organization must master. Not as a panacea, nor to replace analytic thinking, but to know when to use each type of thinking and how to leverage them in the workplace.

This may sound like a high-level, academic topic that is overkill for small businesses or workgroup teams, but I’m going to illustrate how and why the opposite is true. The skill-set to practice Systems Thinking in the workplace is relatively simple, and the learning curve quite short. The key to making it pay off is the more difficult piece of clearly understanding that it implies a culture shift in your organization at the individual level to accommodate this type of thinking.

Natural Sciences Led Systems thinking Development

Let’s first take a look at where this discipline comes from. The natural sciences essentially led the development of applying Systems Thinking to solving their work problems. In human medicine, a few centuries ago, people began to recognize that all of our bodily systems are interconnected. When one system is affected, most or all the others are also somehow affected.

This is simply common sense to us today, but even this was largely misunderstood until the mid 1900’s. Recognition that organizations are also living systems made up of people who are living systems, and that they are also subject to the natural laws of life and therefore should be dealt with in that context, actually began in the mid-1900’s.

Today, associations around the world are devoted to the science of systems thinking. Educational institutions are embracing the skill sets from this discipline for the purpose of improving management techniques of all types of organizations. Of greater significance to business people, is that major corporations, non-profits and governmental entities have proven the worth of Systems Thinking in management. Moreover, they have enjoyed impressive success as a result of embracing Systems Thinking skill sets, generally outperforming their counterparts. Want some examples? General Electric is one. WD-40 is another much smaller company. Southwest Airlines is another. Sundt Construction of Arizona is another. The National City Police Department in California is another, notably a small city’s governmental department. I mention these to illustrate that Systems Thinking can be applied by any type or size organization.

So what? So this! Every business faces the common challenge of having not just good, but really great, communication among and between all levels of management. If you run a small auto shop, a 30-person professional services business, a medium size retail operation, lead a team of bankers, are a superintendent of a school district or lead a global manufacturing firm, you surely have to ensure your staff, teams and managers are constantly and clearly communicating with each other and with you to be confident your customers receive consistent high value. How will Systems Thinking skills help make this happen?

A Little Bit of Theory

With an understanding of just a little bit of the theory behind Systems Thinking and some brief instruction on skill-building, owners, managers and employees can gain a clearer understanding of how they can easily and much more effectively communicate problems and solutions within the organization. What you get is much faster decision-making that is also more likely to be better decision-making.  A key element of Systems Thinking skills is that everyone in your organization can more clearly see his or her contribution to keeping the customer happy and coming back for more business.

Let’s get back to the how. If your firm has managers meeting regularly with top executives, not only do stronger personal relationships occur, but their ability to more comfortably and clearly communicate problems and discuss solutions is improved. If you add to this a common understanding of the various systems in the organization and those surrounding the organization, the wealth of intellect driving decision making is enhanced exponentially.

This can be accomplished by either having external facilitators conduct periodic scans of the internal and external systems of the organization or having an internal facilitator do the same. There are pluses and minuses to external and internal facilitators but that’s a topic for another article. This is an application of Systems Thinking that can be simply and easily practiced in the workplace at a low cost. No theory, just do it, and do it regularly. You might be astonished at the results you get.

For a more in-depth understanding of applying Systems Thinking in the workplace you might like to take a stab at the MIT Beer Game Exercise ( It is commented on by Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline (pp 47-54), if you wish to understand its significance in how easy it is to overlook external factors affecting our businesses.

For simple tools to assist you in practicing the fundamentals of Systems Thinking in managing a business of any size, visit our website or contact me at your convenience. I can be reached at eric[at]