Proceedings of the 53rd Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2009, Brisbane, Australia, Proceedings of the 53rd Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences

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The Application of Stafford Beer’s Viable Systems Model to Strategic Planning

John Stephens, Tim Haslett


This paper outlines a sequence of sixteen management diagrams that demonstrate both the rationale of the specific Action Research change method and the underpinning structure of the strategic planning process that has emerged at Greyhound Racing Victoria the body responsible for regulating the $3b industry in Victoria. The management diagrams are devotedly and unashamedly based on Stafford Beer’s (1972; 1979; 1985) original drawings. Managers who follow the philosophy and methodology outlined here, do need to discover their own diagrams and the levels of understanding that they might need to transform their thinking into a strategic planning platform for their own businesses. The required levels of understanding of any theory-based method will vary according to organisational hierarchy. And so while this paper is aimed at the upper levels of management, it must be as clearly understood that according to the structure of the method, its fundamental principles should apply recursively, at all hierarchical levels of the organisation. It is for this reason that the diagrams start at an elementary standard and aggregate to differing levels of complexity.
The first eight diagrams trace how employees at GRV came to an understanding of the structures that lead to the formation of the PICCO formats. The terminology used is simple and uncomplicated. With absolute respect to Beer, this level of simplicity is nonetheless required for three very important reasons. The first reason is that the fundamentals of the diagrams need to be comprehensible for a broad range of employee competency levels. The second reason is that these diagrams need to be both practical and useful at differing hierarchical levels of management. The third reason is that in keeping with the first two reasons, employees are able to focus on a single method. In accord with Argyris and Schon (1974) employees can then make conscious use of the diagrams and the PICCO formats to learn and manage their responses to organisational issues in practice.

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