Whatever Doesn't Make You Stronger Kills You

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 04-06-2005 Print Email
Opinion: The longer an organization has spent becoming more like it already is, the stronger the force to continue in that direction becomes.
All human organizations tend to be self-amplifying.
—Angus' Eighth Law

There's an effect that hamstrings all corporations, even the most effective ones. It's the natural tendency of any organization to become ever more like what it already is. It's what I call a "self-amplifying" tendency.

The longer an organization has spent becoming more like it already is, the stronger the force to continue in that direction becomes—like matter being sucked into a black hole. Eventually they lose the ability to change at all, without recognizing how it happened.

The consequences are reduced flexibility, a shrinking portfolio of solutions to face problems that inevitably evolve, and a loss of ability to find new customers or even to remain in touch with existing ones.

If you know the effect exists, there are tactics you can use to address it, though they don't work in all organizations. To have a chance of dealing with it, you first need to understand why it happens.

In Unconscious Systems, Opposites Detract

It's normal behavior to like working with people who make you comfortable. Most people naturally believe people who agree with them, who see things the way they do, who speak using the same vocabulary they do. They often consider these people "smarter" or "better" than those who don't. Hiring managers are stochastically more likely to hire people who are "smarter" or better," and therefore tend to hire people like themselves.

Click here for a column on management by wishful thinking.

Sometimes that hiring tendency affects a group only through a concentration of the same kind of personality or ethnic identification. Frequently, though, it homogenizes problem-solving approaches as bosses unconsciously favor employees who reason like the boss ("bull's-eyes") and disfavor or ignore staff who don't ("strangers").

That managerial pattern exerts a gravitational field that shapes behavior, like a humongous Skinner Box.

The "strangers" are a little less likely to get promotions or high-impact assignments, while the "bull's-eyes" will tend to get more of them. The ones in the middle will start to gravitate more toward the favored choices and styles so they can get approval or avoid being ignored.

Next Page: How it proliferates.



 

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