Organizational Inertia

The primary causes of Organizational Inertia, and the inevitable results on Performance:

1.  Laziness on the part of Executive Leaders

  • Not much can be done about this.  Executives control the organization.  Unless they are willing to change, things will remain the same.  If you are young enough and have aspirations for growth and opportunity, best go somewhere else.

2. Lack of “Buy-in” by mid-level managers to the agenda of the Executive function.

  • Usually the lack of buy-in comes not from rebelliousness, but from a lack of understanding the importance of forceful movement that the Executive function interprets as necessary.  Without buy-in, there is a disconnect between the head of the organization and the hands.  Efforts is likely to be half-hearted at best.  Executive leaders must back-up and sell the agenda, and convince mid-level managers in the benefits to them of passionate pursuit of the goals.

3.  An “Entitlement Culture” wherein people expect to be compensated irrespective of their contribution.

  • The Entitlement Culture comes from two sources:  one, a generalized belief that personnel are “owed” something—common in Unionized enterprises; two, a culture in which success is assumed to continue with little effort into the future, such as a large legacy organization in which people see little of the necessary anxiety that fueled early generations of sacrifice to survive—this cause is often an artifact of the assumptions and habits of the Executive function, who may be resting on the laurels of their success, or the success of their predecessors.

4.  Anxiety about the future (opportunities, jobs, compensation).

  • On the one hand, anxiety can be used to good effect by the leadership to break inertia and propel the organization to perform at a high level so long as they do not “overcook” the message about the reason for the anxiety and its potential negatives to the personnel.  On the other hand, if the anxiety is too great (perhaps due to being overplayed by management0, inertia is likely to persist with potential for a “death-spiral” occurring whereby those who cannot tolerate the anxiety leave the organization for better opportunities, leaving the less-talented personnel in place who are just not able to sustain quality or quantity.

5.  Fear to take chances unless specifically directed by executive leaders.

  • In highly regimented and authoritarian organizations, leaders sometimes become rigid gatekeepers of resources and decisions.  Unless they approve of actions, nothing happens.  If the executives create momentum, then there is not really a problem of inertia.  Yet if they are neither visionary, innovative, nor possess a high-degree of urgency, then they will be unnecessary hurdles to increasing momentum because this sort of executive leader often craves the power and control they have over the organization.  Naturally, authoritarian, controlling leadership is difficult to transform.

6.  Reluctance to take risks on the part of Executive Leaders.

  • In some instances, executives have things set up very good for themselves.  Rewarded for quarterly performance or other short-term results, they are reluctant to make investments or necessary changes that will help the organization for the long-term. Obviously, this places an inertial constraint on the organization that will only be broken when the calculus changes in their risk-to-reward matrix.  unfortunately, when the high-performers see this sort of situation, unless they have golden handcuffs, they are likely to abandon the organization for one in which the executives place the well-being of the organization above their own self-interest.

See also the post on Organizational Momentum.

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