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Continuity in Social Systems

How do organisations ensure sustainability? What seems self-evident (people, actions, merchandise, buildings, products, structures, locations and even names and owners change and yet the organisation maintains its identity), it is not really so self-evident.

From the viewpoint of system-theoretical considerations, continuity arises through the repetition of decisions about particularly important guiding distinctions. So that these do not have to be made each day anew, patterns, schemata and premises develop, which have a permanent validity and are only questioned in particular cases (e.g. in consultancy situations, or during ‘culture change’). Some of these premises are supervised by means of controls (and behaviour rewarded or sanctioned accordingly). This applies particularly to decision-making premises, which Luhmann has called programmes. Programmes are patterns directed to a goal: “If (the order arrives) – then (you enter it here and inform xy)”. Trusted terms, which revolve around the concept of programme, are: rules, working instructions, procedural rules, prohibitions, commands, instruction manuals and handbooks. For social systems, therefore, control has a function with regard to their adjustment (and not only for the performance)! This is important for management and organisational consultants in change processes, because a new identity cannot be had without a change in rules and control mechanisms. Changes to other communication forms or competences by the organisational members must, therefore, be accompanied by changes in the guiding processes ‘Social Complexity’ and ‘Handling the Present’.