Sociotechnical Systems Work Approaches the Objective of Essay

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Sociotechnical Systems Work Approaches

The objective of this study is to examine and assess sociotechnical approaches from two perspectives and specifically the historical perspective in regards to evolution of management styles that support and enable a sociotechnical approach and stages of innovation explaining how Rogers' diffusion of innovation informs the implementation of, or lack thereof, sociotechnical system

It is reported that socio-technical systems is a work that sprung from the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in England and involved the exploration of methods for productivity improvement while raising morale in organization via use of 'action research'. (Babson Education, nd, p.1) The primary assumption of socio-technical systems is that organizations 'consist of the relation between a nonhuman system and human system." (Babson Education, nd, p.1) The socio-technical view holds that both of the systems must be given consideration "when jointly optimizing the two." (Babson Education, nd, p.1) It was additionally explored how organizations attempted to survive in the social and economic environments and how this is accomplished primarily through "development of semi-autonomous groups that have more flexibility.

I. Socio-Technical Theorists

Socio-technical theorists place emphasis on both the "social and technical systems" and their joint optimization. It is reported that approaches that are rational are such that "ignore the psychological and social needs of the workers when introducing new technologies, and tend to overformalize the worker's activities and interactions in forcing a fit between the worker and the technology." (Babson Education, nd, p.1) According to socio-technical theorists, "repetitive, undemanding work undermines commitment and performance motivation (Scott p. 249). At the work group level, competition and close supervision causes stress, petty deceptions, scapegoating, and low morale (Scott p. 249). It was first made apparent in a study of British coal mines (Trist and Baumforth, 1951). The initial introduction of the long-wall method disrupted social ties and autonomy in the mines and was only effective after the social concerns were addressed. Basically, they disagree with the rational system perspective that by standardizing and routinizing work demands work performance is enhanced. Instead, a large body of socio-technical research has focused on the social psychological aspects of work and job characteristics required in effective work design" (Babson Education, nd, p.1) Research on job characteristics is reported to make the assumption that such as "variety, autonomy, and required interaction are associated with worker motivation and job performance. Later research has shown that these relationships are mediated by individual worker expectations and needs (Hackman and Oldham, 1980). So far the theories are only weakly supported, and the research suffers from methodological inconsistencies." (Babson Education, nd, p.1 )

II. Pole A and Pole B. Of Socio-Technical Systems Analysis

The work of Nathanael, et al. (2002) in the work entitled "Socio-technical Systems Analysis: Which Approach Should Be Followed states that sociotechnical systems could be "positioned in a continuum delimited by two poles: (1) Pole A which attracts systems governed by well-determined laws that cannot be altered within the life span of the system; and (2) Pole B, which is reported to attract systems "in which the transformation function is not stable, i.e., the laws governing it are vague and/or may change considerably within the life span of the system." (Nathanael, et al., 2002, p.2)

Examples of Pole A include such as:

(1) industrial process plants;

(2) transportation vehicles; and (3) data mining systems. (Nathanael, et al., 2002, p.2)

Examples of Pole B. include:

(1) banking institutions;

(2) schools; or (3) machine workshops. (Nathanael, et al., 2002, p.2)

The laws that govern socio-technical systems are universal in the sense that they involve basic energy, mass and information transformations. They are reported to be "manifested by a stable transformation function that predominates over the system." (Nathanael, et al., 2002, p.2) It is reported as well that human agents in these type of systems "…recognize the constraints generated by the transformation function and their activity is tuned by them. When a trained operator is found in such a highly constrained work setting, such as the control room of a nuclear power plant, he faces a causal world where the physical process itself is both the object and a major part of the work environment. In this sense, the causality of the physical process provides the operator with both a goal to achieve and the corresponding rules to obey in order to achieve this goal. The water -- steam temperature and pressure relations of the reactor cooling plant are an integral part of the process of transforming mass to energy, so achieving a balance between them is a goal towards the objective. At the same time, the relations between them provide the operator with a set of stable constraints that greatly restrain alternative courses of action. " (Nathanael, et al., 2002, p.4) The stated results are that little chance exists for "other constituent elements of the system to emerge as determinants of its overall behavior." (Nathanael, et al., 2002, p.5) Since the transformation function is such that defines the system objectives these may be modeled as causal and in the process lose very little of the behavioral characteristics. However, it is related that in regards to Pole B, that human beings and their accompanying intentions, "predominate as determinants of a system's behavior. There is no intrinsic causality that dominates over the system, since a number of parallel objectives may be at play at any moment." (Nathanael, et al., 2002, p.6) The vagueness and lack of stability of the constraints are used by humans in characterizing the transformation function and it is stated that they also "…exploit the many degrees of freedom for action depending on their personal intentions, short-term goals, history or situational constraints. Additionally the intrusion of human intentionality and artifacts shatters the homogeneity of temporal-spatial scale, the history of the system and/or its components may spread in a different timescale." (Nathanael, et al., 2002, p.6)

Pole A and Pole B. can be thought of as "tightly vs. loosely coupled systems" or "hard vs. soft systems." This vagueness was addressed by Everett Rogers' (2003) in his theoretical exploration of the diffusion of innovation. The work of Rogers is reported as being such that "underlies the more popular work, 'The Tipping Point' as well as drawing on studies in a diversity of field that examine the process of the adopted of new technology. Reported as the most striking of all phenomena of this work is ." The common occurrence of an S curve when charting adoption over time, indicating that first a small number adopt, then at some point, a critical mass is reached, and adoption shoots up, finally leveling off once most have adopted the innovation." (Schatz and King, nd, p.4) Studies often claim that those who adopt technology earlier on are "more educated with broader communications networks than later adopters." (Schatz and King, nd, p.4) This was found however, to be untrue however, this view did make provision of insight that was quite useful since it was observed that in loosely coupled systems that as stated previously "goals and intended outcomes are often broad, ill defined and vague." (Schatz and King, nd, p.4)

It is reported that Rogers categorized adopted as follows:

(1) innovators;

(2) early adopters;

(3) early majority;

(4) late majority; and (5) laggards. (Schatz and King, nd, p.4)

Rogers view the innovation decision-making process as a five-step process including:

(1) knowledge;

(2) persuasion;

(3) decision,

(4) implementation; and (5) confirmation. (Schatz and King, nd, p.4)

Rogers states that these steps work within four primary elements of diffusion including:

(1) the innovation;

(2) communication channels;

(3) time; and

4) the social system. (Schatz and King, nd, p.4)

According to Rogers, diffusion is actually a process of communication and the time needed to decide to adopt an innovation is reported to grow longer for each of the give categories of adopters…

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