A key reason for organizational behavior


Why do organizations and the people in them behave as they do?  There are, of course, many answers to this question, depending on just what aspects you are talking about and on just what viewpoint you take.  Often this behavior has little relation to the policies and pronouncements of management.  Why should this be?  Here is one answer that I have found helpful, particularly in my consulting practice.  It is a perfect example of the kind of painful insight that I find has special meaningfulness and use.  Here it is:


Sooner or later management gets what it is really asking for!


The key word, of course, is "really".  Never mind what management is saying or what directives and policies it issues.  What messages is it sending by its actions and its own behavior?  Often these are at variance with the official line.  Guess which one the organization and the employees will take for their guidance?


If you are trying to understand the behavior of an organization and its employees, try to determine realistically what messages management is really sending to the troops.  Who gets promoted and gets recognized?  Did they exemplify the desired organizational behavior?  Does management respect its own policies and directives?  This will set the standard for how the rest of the organization will treat these same policies and directives.


Here is an example from real life:


A large, research and engineering organization, full of excellent technical people, grew from an academic background and was trying to get better control of how its projects ran.  Project plans were made and project management structures were put in place.  But the head of the entire organization (himself a technical person) continued to wander around the organization and drop into offices and laboratories (in itself, a very good thing) and felt completely free to authorize changes, initiate new tasks and exert his authority as he wished.  He did not feel constrained by the project disciplines he had put in place to deal with the problems the organization was having.  Is it any wonder that the rest of the organization paid little attention to plans and project managers?  And the project managers felt useless and frustrated, thus decreasing the incentive for anyone (particularly, good people) to become a project manager.  The corporate behavior could not change while the head of the organization was making it clear that he valued the old ways.


I have found this a very powerful tool and a very penetrating thought.  If you are the head of such an organization, examine just what messages you are sending to the people below you.  You might even ask someone else to tell you what messages are really being sent.  Make sure that your actions reflect the values you preach.  Getting these two aligned, plus a little patience, will bring you great rewards in how your organization responds.


I cannot overemphasize how seriously you should take this thought.