Change the Workplace Change the World! Part 3: A Systems Approach to Decision Making and Planning

Decision Making Using a Systems Approach

by Nancy Cebula, PiC

Unintended consequences  .  .  . Too many decisions get stalled or derailed because one part of an organization or a key issue was left out of the decision making process.  The systems approach allows us to look at how decisions will be impacted and will impact all the parts of our system/organization.

Using a structured way to see the whole system and attempt to understand how the decision, issue or problem at hand could affect each part of the system and the system as a whole, as well as how the system and its parts could affect the decision, makes this process efficient and effective. The following discussion is based on the Baldrige National Quality Program’s Criteria for Performance Excellence Framework, which was adapted with permission by the National Institute of Corrections through their Achieving Performance Excellence Initiative’s Systems Approach Model.

Eight domains in the Systems Approach Model are:

  • Organizational Culture
    • The values, norms and assumptions of the organization and the ways that people behave toward one another.
  • Leadership
    • How the organization accomplishes its legal, ethical, and societal responsibilities; top executives’ responsibilities for running and guiding the organization and its staff members.
  • Operations Focus
    • The design, management, evaluation, and improvement of the organization’s work systems and processes.
  • Stakeholder Focus
    • Internal and external stakeholders, including customers and clients, engagement; how well services are provided, improved and innovated.
  • Workforce Focus
    • All aspects of managing the people who work in the organization – their development and engagement; the workplace environment.
  • Strategic Planning
    • How strategy, planning, decision making and implementation are managed.
  • Measurement, Analysis and Knowledge Management
    • The managing of data and information, information technology, knowledge and performance management systems.
  • Results
    • The outcomes, including those impacting stakeholders, finances, workforce, leadership and social responsibility; how well the organization is meeting its mission and strategic goals.

Taking the decision topic, issue or problem through each of the domains is facilitated with some guiding questions.  To do this in an apparently simple manner is to look at each domain and ask:

  • How could this decision affect each domain?
  • How could this domain affect the decision?

Depending on the complexity, importance and strategic significance of the decision, more questions can be developed to create a more in depth analysis of the system and the issue.

Sometimes it may seem tedious to do such a thorough review. However, in the long run, this allows people to avoid, as much as possible, unintended consequences. And over time, it becomes less cumbersome and easier to do. The more time that is put in at the front end, the better the outcome of the decision.  This systems approach will support and enhance the use of evidence-based decision making that more and more organizations are implementing.



Baldrige National Quality Program. 2011. Criteria for Performance Excellence. Gaithersburg, MD: National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Cebula, Nancy, Theresa Lantz, and Tom Ward. 2011. APEX: Building the Model and Beginning the Journey. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections.

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