The passive-agressive organization

Among the seven types of organization, the Passive-Aggressive is one of the unhealthy types of organization but unfortunately, it is also the most popular one. Research shows that approximately 27% of organizations are passive-aggressive, where “everyone agrees but nothing changes”. The purpose of this post is to list the symptoms of  passive-aggressive organizations as well as to suggest some “treatments” for this type of organization.

According to Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. (2009), here are the symptoms of passive-aggressive organizations:

Inability to execute:
  • The organization is extremely resistant to change
  • Reaching consensus is easy, but actions are not implemented
  • Employees often ignore strategic edicts from management
  • Lack of ownership and accountability leads to inaction or irresponsible behavior
Ineffective decision making:
  • In centralized organizations, line managers second-guess headquarters decisions
  • In decentralized organizations, senior managers micromanage their subordinates
  • Decisions are often ill-considered, because accountability is unclear
  • Key decisions are often ignored/overlooked because decision rights are not well defined
Information disconnect:
  • Line managers and senior managers are rarely “on the same page” regarding key business indicators
  • Line managers make suboptimal choices because they do not understand their bottom-line impact
  • Headquarters is not apprised of important competitive information and, thus, is slow to respond
  • Different divisions/functions/regions operate as silos
  • Poor horizontal communication leads to inefficiencies and conflicting messages to the market
Inconsistent or conflicting motivators:
  • Incentives do not promote the best interests of the firm
  • The firm frustrates strong performers and fails to weed out poor performers
  • Firms fail to attract and retain talent
  • Complacency takes hold because career advancement and compensation are not closely tied to performance
  • Ineffective appraisals result in individuals’ advancing beyond their capabilities

Do nothing

It should be noted that an actual passive-aggressive organization is not necessary to have all of the symptoms listed above. You can also check what type of organization yours is using this quiz.

So if your organization is a passive-aggressive one then what should you do? Here are some suggested “treatments” for passive-aggressive organizations (Neilson, Pasternack and Van Nuys, 2005):

  • Bring in new blood: Outsiders send an unmistakable signal to the existing employees that “things are so badly broken we can’t fix them ourselves anymore”. In addition, outsiders bring new standards they expect the organization to meet.
  • Leave no building block unturned: Change everything at once, so that the magnitude of the problem, and of the effort that will be required to fix it, cannot be denied.
  • Make decisions, and make them stick: Allocate and clarify firm “decision rights.” These rights should be delegated to those equipped with enough information and most able to effect the desired outcome, which often means front-line employees.
  • Spread the word and the data: Everyone in the organization must have access to the relevant information and be clear about which issues deserve the highest priority.
  • Match motivators to contribution: Motivators must be designed correctly so that they actually promote contribution.

Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., 2009. The Passive-Aggressive Organization: Converting Consesus Into Action.
Neilson, G. L., Pasternack, B. A. and Van Nuys, K. E., 2005. The Passive Aggressive Organization. Harvard Business Review, October 2005, pp.82-92

One thought on “The passive-agressive organization

  1. This is a great post for anyone looking to get organized either in your home or in your business. I’ve personally run into a lot of these hang ups at one point or another, particularly reaching a consensus but never making a change. I didn’t know to label this as passive aggressive organization, but it makes sense!

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