V) Structural Inertia And Related Organisational Matters

Not understanding structural inertia - organisations are designed to promote stability and maintaining the status quo; with staff selected and trained to perform specific jobs, and they are rewarded for performing them in certain, pre-determined ways.

There are 3 institutional functions or norms that come together to produce structural inertia, ie behavioural norms, institutional order and social order. All are interconnected.

i) behavioural norms - the organisation instills a set of common beliefs based on shared behavioural values, ie particular positions within an organisation carry specific rights and responsibilities unique to the organisation. The resultant norms give rise to rules that detail how organisational members are supposed to behave. These guiding behavioural forces can become fixed, because of the preference for status quo, irrespective of the need to change or evolve.

ii) belief about institutional order - this involves organisational power and regulatory processes which include rule-setting monitoring and sanctioning activity that characterises the organisation. Generally, the power and processes support the status quo and consequently can work against change

iii) belief about social order - through symbols and elements, such as language, office space, titles, etc, people's mindsets are determined in relation to how they see the organisation and the world through the organisation. This narrow view of the world, through the organisation's filter, can work against change


"...Just as people are creatures of habit, organisations thrive on routines. ... Routines - the predictable, virtually automatic behaviours - are unstated, self-reinforcing, and remarkably resilient......they are, for the most part, functional and highly desirable. Dysfunctional routines, by contrast, are barriers to action and change. Some are outdated behaviours that were appropriate once but are now unhelpful. Others manifest themselves in knee-jerk reactions, passivity, unproductive foot dragging, and, sometimes active resistance. Dysfunctional routines are persistent, but now not unchangeable. Novelty - the perception that current circumstances are different from those that previously prevailed - is one of the most potent forces for dislodging routines. To overcome them, leaders must clearly signal at that context has changed..."

David Garvin, et al, 2005

Not appreciating that resistance is a normal reaction to change. If people are faced with ambiguous or uncertain situations, where they feel they do not know what to expect, they will resist moving to those situations (uncertainty principle)

The change process can be perceived as, and often is, a threat to the existing balance of power and power bases within an organization, ie

"...if changes are made in respect to who's in charge and how things are done, a shift in the balance of power between individuals and organisational subunits is likely to occur. Those units that now control resources, have the expertise, and wield the power may fear losing their advantaged position as a result of any organisational change..."

Dennis Hall, 2006a

According to Robert Sutton (2007), many research studies show that people in positions of power in organisations tend to abuse their position, ie

"...The idea that power corrupts people and makes them act as if they are above rules meant 'for the little people' is widely accepted......it is astounding how rapidly even tiny and trivial power advantages can change how people think and act - usually for the worst..."

Robert Sutton, 2007

As they enjoy constant deference and false flattering, they feel more important. This is shown by

- talking more

- listening less

- taking what they want for themselves irrespective of others' needs

- ignoring other (less powerful) people's wishes and comments

- indifference to how less powerful people react to their behaviour

- acting more rudely

- giving themselves excessive credit for good things that happen

- blaming others when things go wrong

- generally treating any situation or person as a means to satisfy their own needs, ie

"...being put in positions of power blinds them to the fact that they are acting like jerks..."

Robert Sutton, 2007

Management assumes

"...organisations act like individuals. They don't..."

Peter Drucker as quoted by Geoffrey Colvin, 2005b

Not realising that to change culture, ie the way we do things around here, there needs to be alignment of behaviours, attitudes, physical setting and operations, etc; need to adopt a holistic approach

Not understanding the law of unintended consequences, ie in responding to various situations, management usually overacts and does the wrong thing

Organisational transition usually requires more time and energy from employees than they can easily provide - this can put increasingly complicated pressures on their private lives. It has been found that success at home and at work can reinforce each other. Sometimes people allow business agendas to clash with, and override, personal agendas. In these situations they spend less time with their families, give up caring for themselves or cut back on sleep. These strategies are actively self-perpetuating. At times human physiology is out of synch with society's around-the-clock performance demands, eg sleep deprivation played a significant role in disasters like the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Challenger explosion.

Failing to find out where people are coming from, thus unable to connect with them and engage them in the change process. Hearing the stories is not the same as taking what they say at face value. People naturally, even unconsciously, defend their habits and ways of thinking and attempt to avoid difficult value choices. After hearing their stories, you can be provocative by making an interpretation that gets below the surface, ie you have to listen to the song beneath the words

Not realising that organisational transition is a social process taking place over a period of time during which people and systems must undergo significant change, learning, adaptation and growth. Organisational transition is not a "static and a one-decision" event.

Fiefdom, silo, cocoon, territorialism, kingdom and stovepipe culture dominates, ie know everything about their area but little about the whole organisation and are very protective about their own area of responsibility. This can result in holding back information and has a negative impact on responsibility, ie it is someone else's responsibility and so no-one ever acts. In other cases, one part of an organisation is vested with too much responsibility for a particular issue. Other parts of the organisation, including those with important information or perspectives, are not consulted or are even actively excluded from the decision-making process. This results in a too narrow perspective and potential problems go unrecognized or are given too little priority. In other words, this culture causes organisational parochialism as

"...decision-makers focus on an impact horizon that is too narrow, neglecting the implications of the constituencies..."

Michael Watkins et al, 2003

Not realising the important capabilities of managing time, help, relevance, and consistency of their values and behaviour must be developed under high pressure

Not focusing on the high leverage changes that will have an immediate, positive and visible impact

Not appreciating that time delays are involved in profound change. Don't judge the ultimate failure or success of efforts only on early results. Keep away from the expectation of "quick fixes"

Too much isolation - the deeper and more effective changes are, the more likely conflicts will arise within the organisation. The more people do change, the more different they become in thinking and acting from the mainstream culture. The more these "changed" people succeed in producing significant advances in practical results, the more potentially threatening they become to others competing with them for management attention and reward.

Not handling some of the dilemmas of change, ie

- adaptive or rational strategy development

- cultural or structural change

- continuous improvement or radical change

- empowerment or command and control

- economic or social goals

Too much zeal - the more personal and business results the "changed" people achieve, the more arrogant and intolerant they become towards the rest of the organisation. Zealots can be dangerous as they frequently set the wrong pace by failing to respect the views, stakes and potential losses of their adversaries. Furthermore,

"...self-knowledge and self-discipline form the foundations of staying alive......every human being needs some degree of power and control, affirmation and importance, as well as intimacy and..... the desire to fulfill the needs of others can become a vulnerability if it feeds into our own normal hungers for power, importance and intimacy......they get so caught up in the action and energy that they lose their wisdom and self-discipline, and slip out of control......when you lead, you participate in collective emotions, which then generate a host of temptations: invitations to accrue the power of others; appeals to your own sense of importance; opportunities for emotional intimacy and sexual satisfaction......yielding to them destroys your capacity to lead. Power can become an end in itself...."

Ronald A. Heifetz et al, 2002

Management and staff regard themselves as "custodians of the organisational traditions"

Not realising that the absence of objections is not the same as active support

Not understanding the dichotomies, or paradoxes, of management, such as

- spending money on investment, such as buildings for training, that produce nothing, while closing down uncompetitive factories that produce goods

- paying the highest wages, while having the lowest costs. It is hard to hire and retain the best people and become the lowest cost provider of goods and services

- focusing on managing short-term, while not handling long-term. Reducing cost at the expense of the future can deliver some short-term benefits but can do significant damage in the long-term. Furthermore, dreaming about the future and not delivering in the short-term can be fatal

- need to be hard in order to be soft. Need a performance-based culture where both tough decisions and soft values are balanced

Many common management errors, such as silo mentality, chasing short-term and neglecting long-term targets, over-emphasising tangibles, not co-creating, not achieving staff buy-in, etc, can be classified under one title - "collective stupidity", ie what can go wrong will go wrong when it should not!!!! Karl Albrecht (2003) observed

"...intelligent people, when assembled into an organisation, will tend towards collective stupidity..."

Karl Albrecht, 2003

Be careful of "collective stupidity", ie when a group of intelligent people get together, they can still make stupid decisions, eg NASA and the Mars probe (one group of scientists used the metric measurement system to get a probe to Mars and the other group used the imperial system for the probe used to take pictures of Mars etc!!!!!!

"Irrational exuberance" was used by Alan Greenspan, (Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States from 1987 to 2006) as another example of "collective stupidity" or "herd mentality". This occurs when people become overcome by emotive human psychology (John Kehoe, 2017a). Two recent examples are the US technology stock bubble in the late 1990s and the GFC starting around 2008. They are examples of how the financial markets can sometimes price things incorrectly, ie the market is not always right. The GFC involved Americans buying houses at values soared just before the huge price bust. Hordes of unwitting investors purchased synthetic mortgage-backed collateralised debt obligations that "exploded" in 2008. In addition to people acting irrationally, there is the problem of lacking perfect information, reminding us that established market indicators are not always good predictors.

Implementation of ideas, ie

When turning

"...ideas into action, trouble begins..."

Robert Kriegel et al, 1996

A misunderstanding that organisations (and staff) can be controlled. Sometimes these are called implementation problems that are linked with the behaviour of people. The premise behind this mechanistic, engineering approach is that you can predict the outcome of human behaviour and determine the right behaviour for staff. But people do not work in organisations like robots, by simply doing what they are told. Furthermore, there is a focus on the people rather than the process that aims for a sameness rather than encouraging diversity, creativity and the valuing of each employee as an individual; this focus does not take into account human differences

Not realising that participants need to move to being observers and back again, ie switching roles to simultaneously watch what is happening while it is happening. Simple strategies, such as pushing your chair a few inches away from the meeting table after you have spoken may provide the appropriate distance to detach yourself enough from the meeting to become an observer rather than a participant. Observe who says what; watch the body language; watch the relationships and see how people's attention to one another varies: supporting, rejecting, or listening; observe how status and prejudice work.

Very often the source of the crisis is a clash of values and a difference in parties. Sometimes solutions will temporarily smooth over the conflict but will not solve the underlying problem. This would require the different factions with competing priorities to acknowledge the gaps between them and work through the differences

Not realizing the need to orchestrate conflict. When tackling tough issues, conflict will occur. Unfortunately, many organisations are downright allergic to conflict, seeing it primarily as a source of danger which can generate casualties. On the other hand, deep conflicts consist of differences in fervently held beliefs and differences in perspective that are important in the change process. Learning and transformation occur by encountering differences that challenge our experience and assumptions and this requires engagement in something in the environment lying outside our perceived boundaries. One of the challenges of change is to work with differences, passions and conflicts in a way that diminishes their destructive potential and constructively harnesses their energy

To avoid getting hurt, you dress up the following defences: innocence is turned into cynicism and is called realism; curiosity turns into arrogance and masquerades as authoritative knowledge; compassion turns into callousness which becomes the thick skin of wisdom and experience

Not realizing that the flattening of organisational structures, and trends to outsourcing and virtual organisations, have emphasized the need for a different approach to change management that is sometimes called the lateral style. This involves developing capabilities from networking to coalition building to persuading and negotiating, and it revolves around relationship building

Not learning from failures. Too much focus on studying successes results in a

"...systematic bias towards success..."

Harry Onsman, 2005

Too much simplistic thinking or not thinking well. We need to get beyond rationalising, stereotyping, ignorance, greed and fear. We need to stop to think about what we believe. If this was done, we would see that the points on which we agree far outweigh the points on which we don't agree

There is a perception that the longer a change initiative takes, the more chance it has of failing, ie early impetus will disappear, windows of opportunity will close, objectives will be forgotten, key supporters will leave or their enthusiasm will wane, problems will accumulate, etc. On the other hand, if the project is regularly reviewed, it is more than likely to be successful. In other words, the time between reviews is more critical for success than a project's lifespan. It has been found that the likelihood that a change initiative will run into trouble rises exponentially when the time between reviews exceeds eight weeks; complex projects should be reviewed fortnightly. The best ways to review are to schedule milestones and assess, ie identify gaps and spot new risks. The most effective milestones are those that describe major actions or achievements rather than day-to-day activities. The review of these milestones is done formally and includes identifying any problems faced in reaching the milestones and how the achievements will impact the next phase of the project. Furthermore, senior executives need to pay special attention to the dynamics within the team and changes in organisational perceptions about the initiative.

Need to be careful of

- not managing upwards, ie your relationship with your boss should be just as important as your relationship with key stakeholders, such as staff, customers, suppliers, etc. It should be one of mutual dependence (for more details, see Ingredient 4)

- micromanaging, ie unnecessary interference into your staff's duties. They will see it as the manager demonstrating lack of trust and/or confidence in them to be able to handle the situation. It can create a vicious cycle that is incredibly destructive

- setting people up to fail, ie giving somebody an activity that has no chance of success

- sink or swim principle, ie giving somebody an activity that has little chance of success

Not understanding "threat rigidity" - there is the tendency to refocus immediately on the core or mainstream activities of an organisation when things are not going well. This can be even at the expense of long-term solutions to the problem.

Not understanding "capital market myopia" - a view that does not consider the impact of other firms' decisions, especially financial, that will have an impact on their own decisions. This can lead to 'racing' behaviour, ie organisations compete to outspend each other. For example, a certain industry is the current 'flavour of the month' and as a result massive amounts of capital are focused on this industry; usually an investment bubble develops and bursts soon afterwards, eg dot-com and telecommunications investment bubbles in the late 1990s, and more recently, the margin lending and sub-prime phenomena.

Need to understand the importance of office politics which includes backstabbing, gossiping, skull-duggery, etc. in times of organisational change. In fact, it is a way of slowing down or blocking change initiatives (Brad Hatch, 2008a). Even staff who are not keen to get involved in office politics realize the importance of it in understanding what is happening in the organisation.

Need to understand that many rules and regulations are applied with the best of intentions but can get in the way of the application of practical wisdom or common sense.

"...practical wisdom is the ability to do the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, and for the right reasons..."

Barry Schwartz has quoted by Fiona Smith, 2010

Most rules are developed on the basis of a fundamental distrust of people's desire to do the right thing and to protect against the worst situation


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