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Places to Intervene in a System

Compliance systems are used to help companies stay between the lines as well as improve the certainty of meeting stakeholder obligations. The purpose of each is different and so will the strategies needed for improvement.

When it comes to improving systems including those supporting quality, safety & security, environmental, and regulatory objectives you need to know where your leverage points are and how to use them.

Donella Meadows discusses 12 leverage points in her article, "Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System"

In Meadows's article 12 leverage points are presented in reverse order of effectiveness that can be grouped in terms of system changes to material, process, design and intent:

Material Change:

12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards).

11. The sizes of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows.

10. The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport networks, population age structures).

9. The lengths of delays, relative to the rate of system change.

Process Change:

8. The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the impacts they are trying to correct against.

7. The gain around driving positive feedback loops.

6. The structure of information flows (who does and does not have access to information).

Design Change:

5. The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishments, constraints).

4. The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure.

3. The goals of the system.

Change in Intention:

2. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises.

1. The power to transcend paradigms.

The greatest leverage comes from understanding the "why" or the purpose of a system and in some cases changing the paradigms on which a system was created.

For example, if a system was designed to close the gap between organizational behavior and a code of conduct then it will focus more heavily on negative feedback to correct for deviations.

However, if a system is designed to continually raise standards towards an ideal or aspirational obligation goal or objective then the focus will be more on positive feedback to amplify desired behaviours to better achieve them over time.

We have found that companies are able improve their compliance more effectively when they change from a reactive to a proactive mindset with respect to their compliance systems. This starts by:

  1. Taking ownership of all stakeholder obligations

  2. Improving compliance processes on an incremental and continuous basis

  3. Developing systems that indicate in real-time the status of your compliance and ability to advance outcomes.

By following these steps companies are better able to apply leverage points to ensure that they do meet their compliance obligations while expending less cost with greater effect.



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