One of the key topics that we are learning this semester is the systems thinking approach. I chose to write about this topic for three reasons, it is the foundation and sort of sets the tone for everything else to come during the semester, I never heard the term before, and it has now sort of become my go to approach when dealing with complex situations. To get somewhat of a grasp on this new concept, I began to look at every situation I encountered as a whole (holistically), and applying the concept to my work in Finance and Administration. Also, with the help of some of our guest speakers this semester, the concept started to make more sense. I can think of many examples from my day to day activities that would require the systems thinking approach, from dealing with Purchasing, to the shaky implementation of the new timekeeping system, proving Munir’s point when he mentioned, “Many organizations are pretty poor with the implementation of new systems. You can’t think about systems thinking, without thinking about change.” From time to time, I even question my supervisor on some of our departmental decisions, fearing for what might happen on the back-end of things, just by changing one small part.
One primary example that calls for a systemic approach is the processing of expense reports for employee reimbursements. There are many components and people involved in this process, and if one thing is eliminated or causing problems, everything will crumble. Employees use a system called Concur (workflow automation system) to process expense reports. This system routes the expense reports to different approval levels, i.e. level one and level two signature authorizations. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, because of everything that is involved in this process, issues always arise; from employees using the platform incorrectly, to the platform itself having issues, whether it be approval routing issues or an expired approval time frame that approvers were unaware of. Of course, these issues cause delays. For a temporary fix, an Accounts Payable rep will go in to Concur to manually move and change things. For a long-term resolution (not really a resolution), for example regarding approval routing issues, it requires me to do some manual work. Not that this really makes a difference, because every time I request and update a new workflow report, none of my previous changes show, which leads me to believe that something (or someone) is lacking within the system. The report is sent to to Accounts Payable, who then forwards to the Competency Center to make the adjustments.
A very complex system, right? We are still on working on figuring things out. In the words of Munir Mandviwalla, “Everything is interconnected, interdependent, a feedback loop – systems thinking”. Systems thinking has helped me to look at everything in its entirety, and learn how all parts play a role in the functionality of a complete system.