Sociotechnical Systems Survey

canstockphoto16315439Benchmarking Your Organization’s Systems: the Twenty-One Critical Organizational Effectiveness Factors 

The term sociotechnical systems describes an approach to organizational work design that recognizes that optimizing the interaction between people, technology and the business environment leads to more productive, satisfying and growth-oriented operations.  The STS Assessment Survey© 2015 (Collaborative Change of Ohio) provides benchmark measurements for each of the twenty critical organizational states central to sociotechnical design. This assessment survey is unique inasmuch as it can both provides comparative analysis to highly successful operations, and serve to measure progress during an organizational redesign.

The Twenty-One Critical STS Factors Include:

tech systems stsTechnical System Factors

  1. Quality Orientation: This factor indicates the degree (e.g. who and how often) to which the firm is taking concrete steps to focus on quality (e.g. rewarding for quality improvement), and backs up that concern with specific quality assurance techniques (e.g. statistical methods).
  1. Technical Efficacy: This factor indicates the suitability of the process know-how, machines, tools, computers, software, and other equipment to the job at hand.  Focus is on the degree that the technical resources are exactly what is needed to turn out the intended quality of work (effectiveness), and turn out work as fast as possible (efficiency).  In other words, not the best machines and processes, but the best machines and processes for the jobs at hand.
  1. Tangible Rewards: The employees’ sense that the pay they receive is fair (not necessarily higher) than compared to others in the marketplace and this organization. They also see their benefits as being generally useful and suitable for their personal circumstances.
  1. Task Challenge: Monotonous, boring, simple and repetitive are adjectives that would characterize jobs rated low in task challenge.  Although some employees prefer simplified jobs, most prefer  and thrive with jobs with relatively high task challenge.
  1. Task Significance: Meaningful work is the target of this scale.  This includes the extent that employees believe that their tasks and role are important to the operations and appreciated by others in the broader scheme of things at the firm.
  1. Setting-induced Stress Persistent and excessive workplace stress has an adverse impact on both quality and productivity, not to mention long-term health. The focus of this factor is the employees’ sense that they can influence the general pace of work flow and to do the simple things that persons use to manage stress during the day, such as short breaks or a private phone call.
  1. Physical Health: This state reflects the employees’ feelings and beliefs about their safety at work, and if they believe how well the firm is organized to correct unsafe conditions.  This is not a measure of actual safety or OSHA compliance issues.
  1. Skill Development: This is the extent that employees’ skills are updated for current and expanding developmental needs.  For example, high performing organizations train employees continually, and often say it is the single most important thing that they do.  Factors include regularity, time commitment, relevance and access.
  1. Ergonomics: This factor indicates how well the persons in the firm and their machines fit together; and is identified by machines that are adjusted to meet human needs (rather than the other way around), and “user friendly” equipment that is primarily serviceable by its operator.

social systems stsSocial System Factors

  1. Inclusion: The measure of employees’ beliefs that they are part of, share, and have privy to the important events within the firm.  This includes the belief that they are treated as a “partner” in the enterprise, are informed of and understand the financial happenings and strategic plans of the organization, and have access to persons at different levels of the hierarchy.
  1. Cooperation: This factor reflects the extent that others within the firm are seen as responding as agreed, go out of their way to help during difficult times, maintain candor and focus on collective goals.  Low levels of cooperation are often indicated by internal competition, suspicion and jealousy, and secretive arrangement that take time and energy away from firm goals.
  1. Upward Influence: The indications for this factor are  that supervisors seek their subordinates advice on important work matters, seek counsel on subordinates’ task and job changes, and listen seriously to volunteered opinions.
  1. Commitment:  Employee pride in the firm, their work group etc.  Also indicates the degree to which employees identify their personal success with the company’s success, and are willing to go beyond their normal duties to have impact.
  1. General Satisfaction: The general subjective satisfaction of employees  with their work and the company.  It is indicated by people liking to come to work every day to do this job for this company.
  1. Support for Innovation: Innovation means trying new ways of doing things, and new ways often fail.  Accordingly, this factor provides for, provide adequate latitude to try new things, encouragement to try again, and reward successes.
  1. Facilitative Leadership: This factor indicates the extent that supervisors are good at explaining what the goals are,  provide the opportunity for subordinates to figure out how to get there, help blend the resources, and give plenty of useful feedback along the way.  Its absence is demonstrated by supervisors that give arbitrary and/or subjective orders, micro-manage subordinates jobs and rarely give accurate feedback.

business environment stsBusiness Environment Integration

  1. Interface with Customers: This factor is indicated by the depth and breadth of employees that are aware of what the customers need and want; has direct contact with them; and awareness of what the competitors are up to.

Technical Responsiveness This factor reflects the organization’s ability to use its technical know-how to respond to a changing  business environment.  Indications include the depth and breadth of cross-trained personnel, machine flexibility, and the ability to respond to unpredictable customer demands and/or requests.

  1. Activity Feedback: This factor is indicated by people in the firm getting constructive feedback and plaudit from people outside of their immediate work group; particularly in such a way that the information is useful to tell employees whether to change or do more of the same.
  1. Requisite Variety: This factor indicates the variety of education and training, learning styles, backgrounds, and values of firm members.  It indicates the ability of the organization to see problems from different angles, and avoid narrow or short-sighted responses in a rapidly changing business climate
  2. Interface with Suppliers: This factor indicates the degree that the company is able to partner with suppliers of product and services to get exactly what is needed at the right prices, and when it is needed; as well as the flexibility to adjust to changing conditions.


Research Behind the STS Survey

These factors have emerged out of many years of research into sociotechnical systems and organizational design.  Among the earliest research Eric Trist and Fred Emory explored the work systems of British coal mines during the 1940s-1950s.  During the late 1960s and 1970s sociotechnical systems design and research merged into the field of organization development, and has since been mainstreamed into organizational design principles. This survey was designed and first tested in 1990, and has been updated several times since then. Michael Sabiers, Ph.D. is the principal developer of this instrument, closely utilizing the pioneering work of William Pasmore, Ph.D.