Supriya Kummamuru’s Paper Proposal

Cybernetics Framework for building a Listening Organization


Co-author(s): Sekhar Vadari

Cybernetics Framework for building a Listening Organization
Listening Organization: A Cybernetics Framework to enable an organization to establish efficient formal channels to capture , understand and address the stakeholder needs effectively.
Abstract: The paper presents a Framework for building a listening organizations based on cybernetic concepts. Presently organizations need to deal with enormous complexity in the environment: both external and internal . . In order to understand and absorb this complexity for survival they also need to have the formal channels which would capture, process and deliver results from understanding these noises. This calls for the organization to have autopoietic homeostats to deal with this inherent complexity. Communication, feedback, control and variety matching with respect to the environment are some of the cybernetic concepts which will be the building blocks of the proposed framework.
Employees play a key role in the survival and decline of these large organizations. Employee competence, capability and morale are the key ingredients to the organizations growth. It is inherent that organizations should have the capabilities or systems to “Listen” to the needs of the employees to be viable. Organizations often fail to hear the voice of their employees, while there could be abundant evidence in advance. The organization as a whole cannot hear and assimilate these voices and are not prepared for an eventuality. Most organizations are poor listeners
Individual Listening (ILA, 1996) is defined as the process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to spoken and/or nonverbal messages. Organizational Listening can said to be the process of capturing , understanding and addressing stakeholder needs through formal and informal channels.
Viable Listening organization should design formal structures to enable Individual Listening and organizational listening. The proposed framework suggest the design based on cybernetic concepts.

6 Responses to Supriya Kummamuru’s Paper Proposal

  1. Ranulph Glanville says:

    I’d like to give you a metaphor.

    I had reason to complain about some hospital treatment. The director called me to meet her. I explained that the hospital had no ability to listen: that it imposed its framework on everything, and that was not listening. The director, in response, said she would create a patient comment form that would allow the hospital to listen to patient feedback. She was completely unable to understand that she was not listening, since the design of the questionnaire would be hers. In other words, it would allow patients to answer the questions that the hospital thought valuable, expressed in the hospital’s language.

    This is not genuine listening, which does not circumscribe or try to guess what the “speaking” partner is “saying”. It restricts the conversation to what the hospital has determined is significant. No amount of explanation could get this through to the director, who clearly could not even begin to listen, herself.

    What worries me about what you propose is that you may be setting up a similar situation in which the so-called listening organisation so limits what it is willing to hear that it doesn’t really listen at all.

    I hope I’m wrong, and look forward to being convinced!

  2. Supriya Kummamuru says:

    My thought process is what you are trying to say! Maybe what I am saying is my attempt is to explore concepts from cybernetics which can be part of an organization, cybernetics being communication & control and communication implies speaking and listening, while speaking is evident in many forms of communications how do they listen? Is there a way we can explore that idea, can the concepts from Living Systems Theory also be explored! ( I have revised my abstract but unable to see the revised content here)

  3. Supriya Kummamuru says:

    My revised abstract:
    The proposed paper explores a Framework for a Listening Organization based on Cybernetic concepts. Presently organizations seem to deal with enormous complexity in the environment: both external and internal . To understand and absorb this complexity for their survival, Organizations are suggested to have formal channels which would capture, process and deliver results from understanding these voices . It is expected of such Organizations to have autopoietic homeostats to deal with this inherent complexity. Communication, feedback, control and variety matching with respect to the environment are some of the cybernetic concepts considered in the proposed framework.
    Employees appear to play a key role in the survival and decline of large organizations. Employee competence, capability and morale seem to be the key ingredients to the organization’s growth. It is believed to be intrinsic of viable organizations to possess systems or the capability to “Listen” to the desires of the employees. Organizations give the impression of often failing to hear the voice of their employees, while there could be abundant evidence in advance. Thus Organizations as a whole miss to hear and assimilate these voices and so look like least prepared for an eventuality. Most organizations come through as poor listeners
    Individual Listening (ILA, 1996) is defined as the process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to spoken and/or nonverbal messages. Organizational Listening can said to be the process of capturing , understanding and addressing Stakeholders needs through formal and informal channels.
    Viable Listening organizations are to design formal structures to enable Individual Listening and organizational listening.

    • Johann van der Merwe says:

      Supriya
      Perhaps the very idea of formal structures are the problem … it sounds too much like some of the notions I have to listen to in my organisation / university (listen in the sense of obey). Too many attempts to define everything (aka, control everything)and far too many “formal” structures for absolutely every act of human perception … and then my brain freezes over. If human perception is subject to too much formal definitions (rules) and structures, then perception is “stilled” (watered down, interpreted by the rules) to the point of this “perception” being taken away from me, and perception cannot lead to the making of distinctions and consequent (appropriate to the situation) action. The result: “action” that is faithful to the book of rules but not necessartily the needs of the customers.

      I do take your point, however. A mix of “formal” structures/channels (reference here to the anarchist comments elsewhere, with the proviso that formal control is applied as little as possible) to keep everyone on the same page, and decidedly informal and humanly responsive channels, aka cybernetic conversations! I would go even further than your expectation of the listening organization to have an autopoietic homeostasis capability – the best way to ensure this is to reveal the autopoietic homeostatic affordance within every employee … cybernetic intrinsic control (a mix of Beer on Ashby, and von Foerster, 1983:275)

  4. BobHelland says:

    Supriya:
    Your proposal strikes me as one of the most relevant to my personal situation and one of the goals I enter the listening conference in hopes of achieving: learning how I can help the organizations of which I am a part succeed at listening. As a government worker in the public “revenue game” there are several roles that I play involving listening (“Listener”) and being listened too (“Listenee”), for example…

    (Listenee) -> (Listener)

    Taxpayer -> Elected Official -> Appointed Official -> Management -> Union -> Employee -> Taxpayer

    That said as an employee, I listen to what the Union tells me I CAN DO, what Management tells me I MUST DO; what the Appointed Official tells Management I am EXPECTED DO; what the Elected tells the the Appointed Official I am WANTED TO DO, what the Taxpayer tells the Elected Official what I am ELECTED TO DO. (That is, by extension of their roles in listening.)

    There is a diagram in my mind that better represents what I am trying to convey (involving substantially more lines of communication), but I believe above will suffice for the questions I raise below. However, to better exemplify some of the internal/external complexities in a “public” vs. “private” environment I offer the following “axioms” of public communication:
    1) Taxpayer -> Employee
    2) Taxpayer -> Elected Official
    3) Elected Official -> Appointed Official
    4) Appointed Officials -> Elected Officials
    5) Appointed Official -> Union
    6) Union -> Elected/Appointed Official
    7) Union -> Employee
    8) Union -> Management
    9) Management -> Appointed Officials
    10) Management -> Union
    11) Management -> Employee
    12) Employee -> Union
    13) Employee -> Management
    14) Employee -> Taxpayer
    15) Employee – > Elected/Appointed Official
    (***Keeping in mind these are not mutually exclusive roles; i.e. management is the employee is the union is the taxpayer – adds a great deal of complexity!)

    That said…

    You say employees play a key role in the survival and decline of organization and employees’ [quality] are key ingredients to an organization’s growth: How does that change when comparing a private to public organization? Does a distinction of “Public” or “Private” matter?

    Also, you suggest you will present a framework for “building” an organization; will you broach “demolishing” a non-listening organization into a listening one? In other words, it sounds as if you have a “bottom-up” approach for a new organization, how would this also work “top-down” for an existing organization? (***I do note, and appreciate, your revision of “building” to “exploring”.)

    I look forward to seeing more and seeing the types of examples you may use in your framework.

    I also strongly agree with Johann’s contemplation of ‘form’al structures and feel that they may represent a listening problem, though there may be an optimal mix. (I am too used to seeing inadequate ‘forms’ such as returns, applications and other ministrations that seem to create more problems than the problems they intend resolve… I sympathize with how an organization may be perceived to be deaf and blind with hands tied!)

    Thank you,

    ~BH

  5. Supriya Kummamuru says:

    We are exploring the idea of ‘ Cybernetics Framework for a Listening Organization’ inspired by Millers Living Systems Theory and Cybernetics models like Beers’s VSM and Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety. We recognize the importance of channels of listening – formal as well as informal; our focus is to explore a framework having a mix of both. We enjoyed the conversation on our idea which made us ‘listen’ to your valuable comments , this ‘listening’ has led us to propose a cybernetics based framework to explore a listening organization rather than ‘building ‘one! as proposed earlier More of our listening to your comments we are sure will enrich the framework…

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