Holistic Management® - a brief overview

What is it? - Holistic Management® is a framework and processes for making decisions in situations which involve living things; people, families, businesses, farms, national parks, etc, and even government.

The framework and processes are ‘agnostic’. That is they do not prescribe how things should be done, nor what people should want. People remain in control of their own aspirations and in fact get more control over their situation.

Why does it work, and why is it different?

As explained on the Philosophy page, all life and the ecosystem exist as wholes within wholes; some overlapping, some closely connected and others more distantly - but connected all the same.

We use the term “whole” to describe living things – people, creatures, families, businesses, etc. The term “whole” is used to show a shift in understanding of them away from that of a machine and its parts.
Wholes tend to behave in certain ways, but because they are not fixed mechanistic things, and because there is diversity within as well as between wholes, and because they can and do evolve and adapt all the time, we cannot be absolutely sure in advance of the entire and precise consequences of something we might do to them - unlike we can with a machine.

To survive, all “wholes” act. Life is a constant flow of actions. For humans to act, we first make decisions. Some decisions are instinctual, many are habitual, and all remaining decisions are deliberate, taking conscious thought to some degree or other. It is the cumulative effect of all these habitual and deliberate decisions which lead to the life we have and our impact on other “wholes” like people and the ecosystem.

To manage holistically works like this:

The people in a “Whole” say a family or business, start by Describing that Whole:
Who are the Decision Makers,
Who are the other people that influence and/or are influenced by the whole and
What are the financial and physical resources available to them.

They then describe the way they want life to be for them in that whole, based on what they value most. We call this the Quality of Life statement.

They then describe what they have to produce to have that life. We call this the Forms of Production.

And finally, in Future Resource Base they describe what their resources have to be like in the near and far distant future to continue to produce what they need (Forms of Production) to have the life they want (Quality of Life).

There are some critical guidelines to make sure the right elements go in the right place as putting them in the wrong place unnecessarily complicates and confuses the decision making rather than helping it.

This then gives people their all-encompassing Holistic Context for them to manage that “whole”. In our culture this is often written and about an A4 page is enough. However, in other cultures, say illiterate African villagers, they use other means more appropriate to their situation. Remember this is the “overall holistic context” – it’s not a list of aims, objectives, or “how-to’s”.

There are 7 testing guidelines which enable them to refer and connect their Holistic Context to their everyday and bigger decisions, so that each and every decision will be moving them towards the life they want. Once understood, these guidelines are a remarkably simple and effective way of sorting through options and to alert of possible unwanted consequences and what might be done to address or avoid them.
The framework has reminders of the breadth of tools which are available and their likely impact subject to nature of the situation, and that grazing and animal impact can also be used as a tool, along with the more commonly thought of technology, fire, rest, and micro-organisms. There is a financial planning process, and if the Whole is responsible for land some biological (grazing and/or crop) planning processes as well as land and infrastructure planning processes. They all interlink and are driven by how people want their lives to be and working with the ecosystem to achieve it while becoming prosperous in their own terms.

Finally and just as critically, there are simple monitoring processes to alert for the first possible sign of unwanted and unintended consequences of any decision, and to ensure that the people are indeed moving toward the Quality of Life they want.


All organizations (as distinct from “natural” wholes like an individual or a family) are set up for a purpose(s). Often those purposes are not clearly enunciated, but for an organization to be managed holistically, it adds a Statement of Purpose to its Holistic Context as listed above. This is subtly on the surface but dramatically in practice, different from aims and objectives usually included in an organization’s legal establishment documents.

Learning to manage holistically:

To manage holistically does not necessarily replace or disregard anything one would normally do in making decisions, although sometimes people find some of the processes they have been using become superfluous.
To learn to manage holistically can be challenging. It certainly takes some time and a lot of practice, but that is no different to learning any new skill. Attending a training program alone will not do it. You will need to practice and continue to practice for it to become the “normal” way you manage. Those of us who grew up before the emergence of computers and the internet had to deliberately learn how to use them, what the terminology meant, even what it could do for us. But having learnt how and with regular use, we mostly use it without a lot of conscious step-by-step thought. Having learnt how and assimilated into our normal way of doing things, we just use it with our focus on the result we want, rather than the process and terminology. Learning to manage holistically will be the same. There are a few terms to learn, and maybe some paradigm shifts to experience, and most probably some new information to learn. Some elements can be a struggle, and when the “penny drops” it seems so obvious and you move on and successfully use your new knowledge.

Because the roots of Holistic Management are in land restoration and grazing animals are used as possible tools for improving the eco-system function in some situations, the public image of it tends to be just a fancy version of rotational grazing. Consequently, many land holders go into the training thinking that to manage holistically they need to build a pile of fences and rotate livestock. This is a misunderstanding. Others, particularly people without a farm with livestock, assume that it is not really relevant for them. As written above, Holistic Management is a framework and processes for making decisions and managing, regardless of the situation. It is especially effective in complex situations such as those involving living things, like people. It is relevant and useful for any business, any family, any NGO etc.

To manage holistically is significantly more effective than the typical way of managing and making decisions, but it will not miraculously create utopia for those who use it. It will however, significantly improve their situation compared to not using it.

To learn more, go to www.savoryinstitute.com
To find training near you www.hmeducators.com.au

Contact me, Steve Hailstone via
Email: steve@hailstonegardendesign.com
Or phone (+ 61) 8 8339 4811

For more information:

Testimonials from people I have and still work with.

Philosophy is an in-depth explanation of the foundations and philosophy behind my approach to garden creation.

Niwajiri, my garden gives an in-depth look at my approach to garden design through the example of our own garden “Niwajiri”.