System Archetype 7: Success to the Successful

System Dynamics & Systems Thinking
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Aniket Deolikar
Consultant, India

System Archetype 7: Success to the Successful

Description of Success to the Successful

One of the System Archetypes is "Success to the Successful". According to this archetype, when two (internal) entities compete among themselves for limited resources and support, the success of an entity depends on the support and resources it gets and thus it affects the other entity. It means the more successful one entity becomes, the more support it gets, but the more the other entity will suffer as fewer and fewer resources will be allocated to it.

Early Warning Symptoms of Success to the Successful

When you see two interrelated activities or people who started at the same level and over time one is doing very well while the other is struggling, you should suspect that this is a case of success to the successful.

Structure of Success to the Successful

Management Principle (What to do?)

There is a common practice of rewarding good performance with more resources, allowing further improvement in the future. But the drawback of this practice is that the people, departments or products who are not the top performers underperform even if they have the skills to do the work.
So, we must look for a goal which balances the achievement of every entity. In some cases, you might have to weaken the coupling between the two entities so that they are not competing for the same limited resource. This is to be done when you see an unhealthy competition which is not beneficial for the organization. Sometimes the low performance of the people might be due to initial conditions and managers can improve the performance of the low performers by setting a better resource allocation scheme which takes into account other factors also, rather than only the past performance.

Business Example of Success to the Successful

A VP of an organization had two people who were new recruits and worked directly under him. The two of them had similar skills and experience. But one of them had to take leaves because of personal family reasons and thus the other one ended up getting preferential treatment. This even continued when the second person returns to work because the VP felt guilty and tried to avoid him. While the first one continued to grow and got more and more opportunities. The second person started feeling insecure and it affected his performance and hence received fewer opportunities. Even if both the people had similar skills, one flourished and the other had to suffer. Frustrated by this, eventually, the second person left the organization.

Real-Life Example of Success to the Successful

One relevant typical situation is when work and life are not balanced properly. The more overtime the employee works, the more the relationship at home deteriorates. Thus, it makes life more complicated and painful for the employee and hence he gives less and less attention to his home life.

⇨ Feel free to add more management situations which you might have faced and what you did to tackle them...

Peter Senge, "The Fifth Discipline Appendix 2: Systems Archetypes", 1990.
William Braun, "The System Archetypes", February 2002


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