04 October 2005

Do you work in a passive-aggressive organization?

"Why do some organizations hum like well-oiled machines, while others stall at every intersection? In today's increasingly fast-paced race, your organization needs to shift gears quickly to succeed and grow. If it's bogged down by micromanagement, clogged information flows, and mixed motivators, it is destined to fail."

A new book called Results, by Gary L.Neilson and Bruce A. Pasternack, describes the seven types of Organizational DNA and how to optimize the performance of each:

Passive-Aggressive: Everyone agrees, but nothing changes.
Fits-and-Starts: Let 1,000 flowers bloom.
Outgrown: The good old days meet a brave new world.
Overmanaged: We're from Corporate, and we're here to help.
Just-in-Time: Succeeding by the skin of our teeth...
Military Precision: Flying in formation...
Resilient: As good as it gets...

According to the Strategy+Business Resilience Report:

"Healthy companies are hard to mistake. Their managers have access to timely information, the authority to make decisions, and the incentives to act on behalf of the organization. The organization, in turn, carries out those decisions. We call these organizations "resilient," because they can react nimbly to challenges and respond quickly to those they can't dodge.

Unfortunately, most companies are not resilient: Fewer than 20 percent of the 30,000 individuals who responded to a Booz Allen Hamilton survey describe their organizations that way. By contrast, more than a quarter of the companies in our survey suffer from a cluster of pathologies we place under the label "passive-aggressive." The passive-aggressive organization displays a quiet but tenacious resistance to corporate directives, even when they are aligned with obvious strategic or competitive advantage. People pay those directives lip service but put in only enough effort to appear compliant; and "nothing ever changes around here."

In a Harvard Business review article the authors point to three classic failings that can precipitate a spiral into passive-aggressiveness:
  1. Unclear scope of authority. It's not clear who makes decisions, leading to dropped balls and to second-guessing or interference from higher-ups.
  2. Misleading goals. Incentives that are not aligned with overall objectives -- or not aligned with other goals across the organization -- can wreak havoc and give people an opportunity to make excuses instead of making things work.
  3. Agreement without cooperation. People pay lip service to change but secretly "hope it will go away" and don't put energy and effort into making it happen.

Read the first chapter of the book.

Do you work in a passive-aggressive organization? Or is it another kind? Please leave a comment and share your observations.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of passive-aggressive behavior, check out How to use punctuation to work out your aggression. Thanks ze!

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Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, most companies are not run very well.

It seems they just don’t get it.

The few companies that know what they are doing, make it look easier then it is.

So –

Employees should appreciate a good company.

Good companies should appreciate good employees.

Anonymous said...

Where I work now, we have the same syndromes.
Even though the company is growing (for external reasons, not because of the management skills), but I suspect it should have failed miserably without those externa l effects.

Unknown said...

These are excellent points.

It's harder than it looks to run a company well. You can't avoid conflict and you need a lot of confidence to address it squarely.

Then if you have too much confidence you can squelch confidence and creativity in others.

It's a fine line -- a constant balancing act.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm in a completely passive-aggressive organization. It's a college, so it's also got elements of the old school mentality that the old ways are good enough (or better!) We also have the problem of having too many managers (24 people in the department, 4 managers and 3 of those kind of manage the same area). Employees here give up making any kind of change within 6 mos. of their starting. As someone who really does care about the direction of the organization, I find this completely frustrating.

Mr. Chips said...

I play poker for a living and many of the skills I've learned at the table translate to the corporate world. In order to be successful you should try to make the best possible decision for any occasion that might occur. Everything is people orientened. What works with one person may not work with another. You need to confront situations head-up and with a thoughtful approach to all the possible outcomes and be able and willing to adapt in a positive way to the inevitable curve-balls that get thrown your way.

Anonymous said...

thank you sir..
i have been highly obliged by your work..sir i m a student of a b-school and it will be such a pleasure and desirable oppurtunity for me to introduce your work to my class mates via my project report on your pa org..thanks once again

Dhiman Deb Chowdhury said...

It would be nice to get your suggestion as to how a cultural change can be brought bear in a passive-aggressive organization. What we could do to improve such an organization? I am middle of it and wanted to improve the organization however, despite the effort to implement the method of organizational change described in Palmer et al (2007) no significant change can be made. Yet, efforts are rarely appreciate, in case sometimes, mid to sr level management seems to reject any notion of change.

I will appreciate any suggestion.

Dhiman Chowdhury

Palmer et al, 2007. Managing Organizational Change: A multiple Perspective Approach. Ian Palmer, Richard Dunford & Gib Akin. Tata McGrow Hill Edition. [Cited January 13, 2008]

Unknown said...

Hi Dhiman,

If senior management isn't behind the change then there is very little you can do. You need some level of organizational will-power.

Quitting passive-aggressive behavior is like quitting smoking, or any other dangerous habit. We are talking about deeply embedded bahaviors that are difficult to change and sometimes even difficult to see.

If your organization is "infected" with this disease, and nobody seems committed to change, then you might want to find another organization that will better appreciate your talents.

If there IS commitment, then you need to get Sr. Managers committed to setting clear goals for the organization, groups and individuals, and then managing consistently to those goals.

For managers who are addicted to passive-aggressive behavior this is often very difficult to do.

Anonymous said...

this is a great blog! i would love to work for a resilient firm, make a decent living and be happy in my relationships at work...never the case.

Anonymous said...

As the man said,"The perfect combination of IGNORANCE and ARROGANCE!"