Organizations are Control Systems

By Chiara Demartini and Piero Mella.

Published by The Organization Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

For more than forty years, the literature on organizations and firms considered as cybernetic systems is rich in authors who favour this interpretation (Kast and Rosenzweig, 1972; Beer, 1981; Jackson, 1993) as well as in texts that affirm the difficulty if not the impossibility of considering organizations as cybernetic systems (Tannenbaum, 1972, Sutherland, 1975).
This paper belongs to the first group. It is clear upon observation that organizations are cybernetic systems not only from an interpretative theoretical point of view but also due to their intrinsic nature as self-regulating systems.
To better demonstrate how they carry out their regulation, we consider the organizations-firms as Control Systems.
We are convinced that in order to remain vital for a long period of time in a perturbed environment, organizations – in particular, firms – must undertake control activities regarding their organizational, economic and financial variables. This theoretical study holds that organizations-firms “are” Control Systems that can survive “only if” their management can achieve the vital objectives set by the stakeholers.
Since the entire chain of control is inside the system, and management is part of the same control structure, organizations-firms can be “intrinsically” – and not only representatively-speaking – conceived of as control systems even from various points of view:
1. as autopoietic systems, following Maturana and Varela’s conception;
2. as teleonomic systems, following Monod’s conception;
3. as viable systems, following Beer’s conception;
4. as systems of efficient transformation, following Mella’s conception;
5. as cognitive, intelligent and explorative systems;
6. as multi-objective and multilevered Control Systems of performance.

Keywords: Organizations as Cybernetic Systems, Organizations as Viable Systems, Organizations as Control Systems, Organizations as Systems of Efficient Transformation, Organizations as Cognitive Systems

International Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Change Management, Volume 10, Issue 12, pp.27-48. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1020.131KB).

Chiara Demartini

Lecturer, Department of Business Research, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy

PhD student in Business Economics at the University of Pavia, Italy. Visiting PhD student at the School of Management, Lancaster University. Teaching course of Advanced Business Administration at the Dept. of Surgical, Resuscitation-Rehabilitation and Organ Transplant Sciences, University of Pavia and teaching course in Advanced Business Administration), undergraduate degree, Faculty of Economics, University of Pavia.

Prof. Piero Mella

Chair of Business Administration, Department of Management Research, Faculty of Economics, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy

Born in Pavia, graduated in March 1969 with a first class degree in Industrial administration, in 1985 I won a chair as a full professor and lectured in Business Economics and Administration at the Faculty of Economics of Pavia. In 1986 I was elected Head of the Department of Business Research at the University of Pavia. From 1987-88 to 1992-93 I was Dean of the Economics Faculty at the University of Pavia. Since it was founded in 1990 I have been the scientific Director of the Masters in Accounting, Budget and Financial Control in profit organizations, set up by the University of Pavia. In 1997 I became Co-ordinator of the Doctorate in Business Research at the University of Pavia. In 2000 I created the scientific web site www.ea2000.it. My interests also deal in the fields of Complex and Holonic Systems and of Networks. In 1997 I have proposed the Combinatory System Theory, described at the web site: www.ea2000.it/cst.

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