Pillars and Basic Concepts of a Managerial Intervention Framework and its Consultancy Approach
Mahmoud Ajami 1
The systems archetypes are generic structures embody the key to learning to see structures in our personal and organizational lives. The purpose of the systems archetype is to recondition our perceptions, so as to be more able to see structures at play and to see the leverage in those structures. Peter Senge in his salient work "The Fifth Discipline” (1990), proposes the systems archetype of "Eroding Goals" for visioning process, in which there are two loops: emotional tension loop and creative tension loop. A major question regarding the model is how to avoid emotional tension loop and increase the likelihood of keeping on creative tension loop. Achieving vision is warranted, if and only if mental models appropriate to the vision are generated in participants of visioning process. In order to avoid erosion of goals, it is prudent to add mental models management to the archetype, so that the cycle of emotional tension is weakened, the cycle of creative tension is reinforced and the latter becomes the dominant factor. This is an innovative extension to Senge archetype of eroding goals. The “Modified Eroding Goals”, proposed by the author in his PhD research, later became basis for the development of a managerial intervention framework and its consultancy approach, successfully implemented in many Iranian firms. This article is a brief description of Modified Eroding Goals theory and its application in managerial consultancy.
Keywords: Learning Organization, Vision, Visioning, Mental Model, Mental Model Management, Eroding Goals Archetype, Managerial Intervention Framework
Structures of which we are unaware hold us prisoner. Conversely, learning the structures within which we operate begins a process of freeing ourselves from unseen forces and ultimately mastering the ability to work with them. In this regard systems archetypes in field of systems thinking is one of the leverage points to be freed from the prison of our thinking. The systems archetypes are generic structures embody the key to learning to see structures in our personal and organizational lives. As we learn to recognize more and more of these archetypes it become possible to see more places where there is leverage in facing difficult challenges. In learning organizations, only when managers start thinking in terms of the systems archetypes, does systems thinking become an active daily agent, continually revealing how we create our reality.
The purpose of the systems archetypes is to recondition our perceptions, so as to be more able to see structures at play and to see the leverage in those structures. Presently researchers have identified about a dozen systems archetypes. Nine of them are presented and used by Peter M. Senge in his salient book "The Fifth Discipline, 1990". One of the systems archetypes is "Eroding Goals" for the visioning process. In the archetype there are two loops: emotional tension loop and creative tension loop. A major question facing each person and the managers in an organization is how to avoid the emotional tension loop and increase the likelihood of keeping on the creative tension loop. According to the model of managing by five understanding levels (iceberg model) visioning is generative that is generates new mental models that cause new behaviour. Warranty to the achievement of the vision would be possible if and only if the suitable mental models to the vision would have been generated in the mind of the participants as a fact. In this regard on one hand visioning process plays unique role in generation of new mental models that participate in creation of vision. On the other hand, mental models management plays an important role in surfacing testing and improving of the old mental models. Consequently, mental model’s management plays crucial role in deactivating the emotional loop and contrary evoking the creation loop, in implementing the archetype of visioning. Therefore, it is required to add the mental models management to the archetype of eroding goals. By adding mental model’s management, the cycle of emotional tension is weakened and cycle of creative tension is reinforced and it would become dominant factor. The author in his PhD research as his PhD thesis developed an integrated structure as a systems Archetype and called it “Modified Eroding Goals”. The archetype of “Modified Eroding Goals”, regarding of scientific system dynamics view has become a basis for development of a managerial intervention framework and its consultancy approach. It is about fifteen years that the mentioned framework has been implemented in many companies in Iran and such that also continued.
Systems Archetype of "Eroding Goals" for Visioning
Senge in his book "The Fifth Discipline, P.152” proposed the systems archetype of "Eroding Goals" for the visioning process (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1: Systems Archetype of "Eroding Goals" for Visioning
In the archetype there are two loops: emotional tension loop and creative tension loop. When a person holds a vision that differs from current reality, a gap named creative tension emerges. The gap can be resolved in two balancing loops: in the lower balancing loop that leads to a fundamental solution, taking actions to bring reality in line with the vision. But changing reality takes time. This leads to frustration and emotional tension represented as symptomatic solution in the upper balancing process. The symptomatic solution lowers the level of vision, bringing it in line with current reality. This is not end of the story, because sooner or later new pressures arise and take down the level of vision more than before. Here a major question may appear for every researcher and practitioner: how is it possible to avoid the emotional tension loop and increase the likelihood of keeping on the creative tension loop? To find out a solution, some theoretical aspects of the problem are reviewed as follows.
MENTAL MODELS MANAGEMENT
In the theory of leaning organization, the discipline of mental models offers the highest leverage for change and it is probably the most practical of the five disciplines of learning organization (Senge, 1994, P.239). Mental models management is a cycle that leads to the improvement of mental models, comprising of three processes: surfacing, testing and improving (Senge, 1990, P.174), it is put into practice continuously (Fig. 2). Mental models management plays a crucial role in the generation of new mental models, through which the likelihood of achieving vision increases.
Fig. 2: Mental Models Management (Ajami, 2017, P.57)
Mental models management, at both personal and interpersonal levels, is a difficult job to handle and needs some particular skills as described in the action science theory by Chris Argyris. These are categorized in two broad classes: skills of reflection and skills of inquiry (Argyris et al 1985).
The model of managing by five understanding levels, (Kim, 1993a, P. 5), (Kim, 1995, PP. 3-4), (Kim, 1999, P. 5 & 17), (Kim, 2001, P.100) (Hinken, 2001, P. 7), (Smith, 2003 P. 71) relates visioning to mental models. It states that visioning generates new mental models in participants, resulting in new behaviours. Effectiveness of visioning process is questioned, if new mental models do not emerge in team members after visioning process has been terminated. It implies that moving towards the vision is in doubt. Vision will be achieved, if and only if suitable mental models to it are generated in the minds of the participants of visioning process.
RELATION OF SHARED VISION AND SHARED MENTAL MODELS2
The relationship between disciplines of shared vision and shared mental models within a learning organization is best described in the following propositions:
- The interventions of shared vision and shared mental model processes have an outstanding role in increased sharing of the participants.
- In an organization, the process of shared vision, if carried out alone, can lead to the scattering of thoughts, undermining the process.
- Process of shared mental models is capable to control dispersion and scattering of thoughts.
- In an aggregate view, the processes of shared vision and shared mental models play different roles. The process of shared vision provides conditions needed to enhance the imaginative activities of thoughts, whereas the process of shared mental models converges and directs them towards the current reality. Therefore, two processes are complementary.
- In managerial and organisational contexts, achieving a shared mental model is the final stage of any change process. Shared mental model process is a mechanism to materialise and bring the potential into the arena of operation, or simply, without the process organisational change will not take place. So, it can be concluded that the rate of growth in sharing mental models predicts the capability of organisational growth.
In conclusion, there is a close relationship between visioning and mental models. As stated by Senge when describing the disciplines of learning organizations, visioning generates new mental models in participants and causes new behaviours.
MODIFIED ERODING GOALS THEORY
Taking into account the above-mentioned theoretical aspects, in order to find a solution for the aforesaid major question of avoiding the emotional tension loop and increasing the likelihood of keeping on the creative tension loop, the author introduced above considerations into the eroding goals archetype. Figure 3 illustrates the integrated structure proposed by the author as “Modified Eroding Goals” model which adheres to system dynamics tradition. It is a modified version of the systems archetype, put forward by Senge (Senge 1990, P.152) as “Eroding Goals” model for visioning.
The essence of “Modified Eroding goals” theory is integrating mental models management with the visioning process. By adding mental models management to Senge's model, emotional tension (vicious circle) becomes weak and creation tension (virtue circle) gets dominant position (Ajami, 2017, PP. 164-168). In other words, processes of visioning and mental models management are synergetic, when implemented in an integrated manner (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3: "Modified Eroding Goals"
An Integrated Model of Visioning Process and Mental Model Management
Shortly, visioning process interacts with mental models. A well accepted vision generates new mental models which in turn push the team members (or an organization) towards the vision. On one hand, visioning process plays a unique role in the generation of new mental models that contribute to the creation of vision. On the other hand, mental models management plays an important role in surfacing, testing and improving of old mental models. Consequently, mental models management is a crucial factor in deactivating the emotional loop and in contrary evoking the creation loop, when the process of visioning is conducted (Fig. 3).
APPLICABILITY OF “MODIFIED ERODING GOALS” IN BUILDING A MANAGERIAL INTERVENTION FRAMEWORK
The model of “Modified Eroding Goals” further was applied by the author to develop a managerial intervention framework and its consultancy approach known as AMIF/MAMIF3 . The framework is used to create changes in organizational leadership and management. It has been successfully applied during the last fifteen years in more than 20 well-reputed large companies of Iran. In brief, implementation of the framework in an organization creates a team with a shared vision and develops strategy map and strategic plan, based on the vision. Up to now, the model has been applied in Iran in various manufacturing companies of power, petrochemical and oil refining industries and successful implementation of the model has been confirmed by their top managers. In this regard the model and its practical results were debated in a special session in a panel by some managing directors of the companies, held in the Fourth International Management Conference, Tehran-Iran (Dec.2006). It received approval of the technical board of the conference as a successful experience in management and also has been rewarded by a Note of Gratitude from the chairman of the conference who wrote: “… For me, as a professor of management and as the chairman of the International Management Conference, it is very pleasant to see that a management framework, developed and implemented by one of the Iranian scholars has received such an approval by different managing directors in different industries …” 4
Tabriz Oil-Refining Company (TZORC) is one of aforesaid companies, in which the framework is being implemented since 2014. Launching projects derived from strategic plan of the company has so far made a profit of EUR 55,000,000. The managers of TZORC anticipate that at the end of the plan, the profit from the projects will reach EUR 182,000,000. It is remarkable that implementation of the framework in TZORC was recognized by the Silver Medal of Managerial Consultancy Award of Constantinus International 2017, ICMCI (Constantinus Award Websites).
In 2017, a DBA dissertation was dedicated to the description of AMIF/MAMIF framework and its effects on changing the mental models of TZORC management. In the dissertation, the following were elaborated as the achievements of the excellency plan of Tabriz Oil-Refining Company (Norouzi, May 2017):
- “Empowered higher management
- Strategic plan, prepared and partially implemented
- Changed management thinking, from traditional to systems thinking
- Dialogue, institutionalized as the way of communication among managers
- Learning Organization, the destination of the transformation journey.”
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1 PhD in Management (field of learning organizations),
CMC: international Certified Management Consultant registered by ICMCI,
Gaining Silver Medal in Managerial Consultancy Award of Constantinus International 2017
Founder and Managing Director of TeKCo (Management Consultancy Company),
Member of Iran Management Consultants Association (IMCA),
2 For detailed description of the relationship between vision and mental models, ref. to Ajami, 2007, PhD Thesis, Chapter 5 Section 5-4-2
3 AMIF: Ajami’s Managerial Intervention Framework
MAMIF: Management through AMIF
4 A part of letter of Dr. Ali Naghi Mashayekhi, Professor on Management in Sharif University of Tehran and Chairman of International Management Conference, Dated: Jan. 21, 2007