Tuesday, August 23, 2011

US Postal Service decline highlights why Systems Thinking is critical

'Systems Thinking' is a critical leadership skill according to research by the Australian Government that included the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and the Business Council of Australia (BCA). Yet Systems Thinking is only taught in two of Australia's universities - Monash University and the University of Queensland.

According to a US Government report, The US Postal Service is in peril. In simple business terms its expenses consistently outweigh its income and the gap is getting wider, not smaller.

When the researchers asked for the organisations 10 year plan none was forthcoming. Let's put the size of this organisation into some perspective. It has 571,566 employees. Imagine the economic and social impact if the US Postal Service was to shut down.

I share this example because it highlights the importance of Systems Thinking. In simple terms Systems Thinking is about understand how everything is connected, that the world does not operate in straight lines and that all systems have limits.

Systems Thinking also teaches us that small changes in one part of a system can have an enormous affect on other parts of the system. We only have to consider our global financial markets to see how this occurs on a daily basis.

In terms of the US Postal Service rather than being proactive regarding significant systemic changes, such as email, they have been reactive. As an example they have consistently relied on 'First-Class' mail to subsidise their losses from traditional mail services. Yet their 'First-Class' services have been declining at an alarming rate over the past 6 years.

With no plan in place or capacity to 'see what was coming' the US Postal Service leaders have failed.
In terms of your development as a leader it is critical that you expose yourself to learning about Systems Thinking, even if you have to lead your own development on this topic. It is one of the reasons I included two chapters specifically on Systems Thinking topics in my book What Really Matters For Young Professionals!
As a start, you might like to review the articles that I have posted on this topic over time. You can access the articles here and here.

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