We can all agree that telling people to change the way they act or talking about how we envision change isn’t sufficient. If we want to change behavior, we need to change the system that drives that behavior. A systems thinking perspective forces us to look at the whole, not the individual parts, and highlights what lies beneath some of the seemingly intractable inertia as we try to achieve meaningful change.

Scroll on and learn more about systems thinking and how RBI is applying this perspective to ISSMS’s change management strategy.

Systems Thinking enables us to:

  • Understand how ISMMS and other complex systems really function.
  • Change our own thinking to match the way ISMMS operates.
  • Change our behavior so that we are working with these complex forces instead of against them.
  • Develop greater appreciation for the impact of our change targets on others in the system.
  • Be aware of the need to balance short-term and long-term objectives and strategies.
  • Anticipate unintended consequences of well-intentioned strategies and change targets.

Systems thinking is driven by these principles:

  • Considering the “big picture”
  • Seeing the dynamicand complex whole
  • Knowing the interdependent nature of the system
  • Recognizing the interrelatedness of parts
  • Thinking about what happens over time
  • Balancing short-term and long-term perspectives
  • Noting the measurable and non-measurable factors
  • Accepting complexity and uncertainty
  • Knowing that we are part of the system (and the problem)
  • Knowing that today’s problems are from yesterday’s solutions
  • Examining interactions that are the most relevant to the issue at hand, regardless of organizational structure or hierarchy

Admittedly, systems thinking is difficult because often people:

  • Default to a reductionist point of view
  • Focus on immediate, short-term solutions
  • Are narrow or short-sighted in perspective
  • Engage in linear thinking (X causes Y) that doesn’t illuminate the complexity of the system

If you are a Mount Sinai employee, there is a training on Systems Thinking offered by Talent Development & Learning.

You cannot identify where and what should change without first understanding the system.

RBI’s Change Management Phase 3

An integral aspect of our strategy is to more broadly enable ISMMS to engage in systems thinking to identify what needs to change in order for us to provide health care and education that is free of racism and bias.  In June, the Guiding Coalition Change Leaders hosted a series of 12 interactive sessions with faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholders. During these sessions we used systems thinking tools such as the iceberg model to help us ask the right questions so that we can understand the best places to “leverage change” in the system. For a recap of the sessions click here.

Small changes can produce big results, but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious. The most grand and splashy solutions—like changing policy, vision, or branding—seldom work for transforming culture. Small, ordinary but consistent and repetitive changes can make a huge difference. Check out where each sphere is at in identifying change targets.

Want to see what patterns, underlying structures, mental models and cultural and institutional values we uncovered during our sphere sessions? Read on.