The systems approach to operational management


An organized enterprise does not, of course, exist in a vacuum. Rather, it is dependent on its external environment; it is a part of larger systems such as the industry to which it belongs, the economic system, and society. Thus, the enterprise receives inputs, transforms them, and exports the outputs to the environment. However, this simple model needs to be expanded and developed into a model of operational management that indicates how the various inputs are transformed through the managerial functions of planning, organizing, staffing, leading, and controlling. Clearly, any business or other organization must be described by an open system model that includes interactions between the enterprise and its external environment.

Inputs and Claimants

The inputs from the external environment may include people, capital, and managerial skills, as well as technical knowledge and skills. In addition, various groups of people will make demands on the enterprise. For example, employees want higher pay, more benefits, and job security. On the other hand, consumers demand safe and reliable products at reasonable prices. Suppliers want assurance that their products will be bought. Stockholders want not only a high return on their investment but also security for their money. Federal, state, and local governments depend on taxes paid by the enterprise, but they also expect the enterprise to comply with their laws. Similarly, the community demands that enterprises be “good citizens,� providing the maximum number of jobs with a minimum of pollution. Other claimants to the enterprise may include financial institutions and labor unions; even competitors have legitimate claim for fair play. It is clear that many of these claims are incongruent, and it is manager’s job to integrate the legitimate objectives of the claimants.

The Managerial transformation Process

It is the task of managers to transform the inputs, in an effective and efficient manner, into outputs. Of course, the transformation process can be viewed from different perspective. Thus, one can focus on such diverse enterprise functions as finance, production, personnel, and marketing. Writers on management look on the transformation process in terms of their particular approaches to management. Specially, writers belonging to the human behavior school focus on interpersonal relationships, social systems theorist analyze the transformation by concentrating on social interactions, and those advocating decision theory see the transformation as sets of decisions. Perhaps, however, the most comprehensive and useful approach for discussing the job of managers is to use the managerial functions of planning, organizing, staffing, leading, and controlling as a framework for organizing managerial knowledge.

The Communication System

Communication is essential to all phases of the managerial process for two reasons. First, it integrates the managerial functions. For example, the objectives set in planning are communicated so that the appropriate organization structure can be devised. Communication is essential in the selection, appraisal, and training of managers to fill the roles in this structure. Similarly, effective leadership and the creation of an environment conductive to motivation depend on communication. Moreover, it is through communication that one determines whether events and performance conform to plans. Thus, it is communication which makes managing possible.

The second purpose of the communication system is to link the enterprise with its external environment, where many of the claimants are. For example, one should never forget that the customer, who is the reason for the existence of virtually all businesses, is outside a company. It is through the communication system that the needs of customers are identified; this knowledge enables the firm to provide products and services at a profit. Similarly, it is through an effective communication system that the organization becomes aware of competition and other potential threats and constraining factors.

External Variables

Effective managers will regularly scan the external environment. While it is true that managers may have little or no power to change the external environment, they have no alternative but to respond to it.


It is the task of managers to secure and utilize inputs to the enterprise, to transform them through the managerial functions — with due consideration for external variables – to outputs.

Although the kinds of outputs will vary with the enterprise, they usually include many of the following: products, services, profits, satisfaction, and integration of the goals of various claimants to the enterprise. Most of these outputs require no elaboration, only the last two will be discussed.

The organization must indeed provide many “satisfactions� if it hopes to retain and elicit contributions from its members. It must contribute to the satisfaction not only of basic material needs (for example, employees’ needs to earn money for food and shelter or to have job security) but also of needs for affiliation, acceptance, esteem, and perhaps even self-actualization so that one can use his or her potential at the work-place.

Another output is goal integration. As noted above, the different claimants to the enterprise have very divergent — and often directly opposing — objectives. It is the task of managers to resolve conflicts and integrate these aims.