Transmitting System Theory to Human Resource Management

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Transmitting social system theory to human resource management

Human resource management can be considered as the most complex field of an organisation. Assuming that this statement is true one could raise the question why human resource management is more diverse than the other fields in an organisation as finance or sales. The answer will be always the same. It is because of the individual, playing a major role within everyday’s HR work environment. This essay discusses what impact a less individual concentrated approach would have on human resource management. This does not mean that the importance of the individual will be devalued. The essay reflects on the influences of a systemic point of view on organisations under the approach of Luhmann’s social system theory. The basic assumption in this essay is that recently developed knowledge areas such as system science and cybernetics are able to improve the management of employees as well as the performance of the business success (Christopher, Holistic Management, 2007, p. xii). This essay will not cover all perspectives of system theory even if they could be related to human resource management it would go beyond of the scope of this essay. It will concentrate on the effect of autopoietically-closed systems on human resource management and the aspect of the social system theory as a holistic concept to understand and ameliorate human resource management. In this essay an organisation shall be described, as “a viable, very complex, purposeful, probabilistic system comprised of viable, very complex, purposeful, probabilistic systems” (Christopher, Holistic Management, 2007, p. 10) This description assumes that viable expresses the capability to survive in its environment and very complex defines the operations coordinated capabilities of all employees and members, including a carefully designed information structure and information flow, which controls the operations viability and the overall success. The purposefulness is referring to the capability to achieve desired goals. Probabilistic alludes to the unpredictable behaviour of the parts of the system, which must and can be guided towards a favourable outcome (Christopher, 2007, p. 11).

To understand how HR is related to system science and vice versa the development of the system theory has to be elucidated. System science arose out of the field of cybernetics on which Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) had a big impact on. In his book (1948) “Cybernetics: Or control and communication in animal and the machine” he describes how information and communication control systems. For Wiener cybernetics is the perfect “science of effective organisation” (cited in Stafford B, Diagnosing the system for organisations, 1985, p. ix) “Cybernetics focuses on the distinction between system and environment. Systems constitute themselves by differentiation from the environment with which they are tightly or loosely coupled. The environment provides influencing forces that contribute to the steering of system” (Wiener cited in Mayrhofer, 2004, p. 180-181). Following the cybernetic view systems change through positive and negative feedback mechanisms. The system doesn’t directly react on environmental influences but it forms its own informational image about the environment (Mayrhofer, 2004, p. 181).

The first time the term system science was mentioned was in the field of biology by the biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901-1972) who stated that system theory should be considered as a broad view, which transcends technological problems and demands and gives a reorientation that has become necessary in science and all disciplines from physics to biology to the behavioural and social sciences and to philosophy. It heralds a new worldview of considerable impact (Bertalanffy, General system theory, 1969, p. vii). It was Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) who developed the significant link between system theory, sociology...
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