10 ways to kill an organization
Posted On June 26, 2022
I’m talking here about the perfect murder, Hitchcock style. Forget the arson attack on corporate headquarters, or the mysterious disappearance of a company from the annals of history (via a merger and acquisition that merged nothing and acquired everything, including the logo and a name that ceased to exist the first day of the ‘union’). ‘). I am referring to the subtle poisoning of an organization that goes unnoticed by many and that some barely suspect. I’m talking slow poisoning by professional assassins with a hidden agenda. I’m talking about a husband-poison-wife-with-small-dose-of-cyanide thriller script, where the poison is administered in an apparently loving environment.
In some organizations it is not so difficult to identify the main suspects, the toxic managers. You might even know them well; you can even report to them. There are two types: the obviously unpleasant and the affectionate. One of them is very dangerous.
That’s right, it’s the one who cares, and the one who poisons under the duty of care.
So here are ten scripts for an organizational thriller. You can choose the heroes and villains you want; I am just providing the schematic. You can also choose the extras and the location. I will be the producer. If you get back to me with a developed script, we’ll try Hollywood first and share the profits. Alternatively, we can try business schools: the case study industry is doing well, and frankly, anything is better than learning about Toyota’s penetration of the US market and maximum maximization of shareholder value in the US. automotive industry in southern California.
Script 1: I know
Subtitle: I just know that we will do x, but go and explore all the options.
In this scenario, a senior manager not only openly trusts the teams but also declares himself the Great Defender of Team Spirit. He nurtures and protects the team from him. He insists on personally advising all project leaders, though this is met with mixed feelings. He encourages the team to explore many possibilities, keep an open mind and see the big picture. But he ‘just knows what’s going to happen’. When faced with a problem, he asks for ideas, although he “already knows the answer.” This pattern is repeated several times, until the team begins to suspect that he is wasting his time and that the Big Guy is just playing with the ego. When the toxicity is revealed, half of the project leaders have gone in search of a boss who “knows less”, and the other half are either bored or enjoying their stock options.
Script 2: Let them fail
Subtitle: Wrong way, but they need to see for themselves.
This script plays out in paternalistic and patronizing organizations where top management has chronically confused a business organization with an elementary school. The toxicity is very subtle because it manifests itself in a so-called learning environment where people “learn from their mistakes” and are “trained to take risks.” Suspicion arises midway through the script when some people who fail are fired. The article ends with people laughing as the CEO speaks highly of knowledge management as he collects the Learning Organization of the Year Award.
Script 3: Try harder
Subtítulo: Guess what I want.
The teams are always “not quite there” when they present the results of a three-month analysis of the problem, returning again and again to refine their exploration. Eventually, a project leader has a revelation and asks, “Why doesn’t he tell us what he wants? That would save us from having to keep ‘getting back on the team’.”
Script 4: I have the answer, what is the question?
Subtitle: I was there, I did that, trust me I know.
A variation of Script 1, this organization is governed by managers who constantly refer back to their previous experiences. If it’s a change management program, bring McKinsey’s M&A templates from his latest company to the first kickoff meeting. The answers are there and you have them. If it’s a human resources problem, they’re super psychologists. If it’s a financial problem, they know because they’ve been there before. Reality is pretty much mapped out, causing the staff to creatively tune out. Sudden death occurs in this script when market conditions change dramatically and the combined wisdom of those seasoned managers can’t make up for the lack of new ideas and imagination.
Script 5: Legitimate Suicide
Subtitle: You decide who is redundant: This is a very human merger and acquisition.
The story begins with M&A consulting gurus deciding it’s better to let the staff decide who will survive, rather than burden the leadership team with such an inhumane decision. Division heads meet and are given a business plan and timeline. After several sleepless nights, a good third of the managers and staff decide they are going to be fired, so they leave. The trick in this script is that there is no visible killer. Instead, several staff members commit mass suicide while singing a rousing chorus of ‘What a wonderful human death this is.’ The ending has a twist: two surviving division heads blame the leadership team for clearly abdicating their responsibilities and disguising everything as a democratic decision, while the CEO uses the case to show how humane, democratic, and open the company is.
Script 6: Do but don’t
Subtitle: Feel free to do it, but make sure we tell you what.
This story takes place in a ‘free’ environment where people are encouraged to take all kinds of initiatives, to act. The examples are numerous. On one occasion, a manager implements a program that she feels she was encouraged to do. She is reprimanded and de facto demoted. Puzzled and frustrated, she leaves. Colleagues demand an explanation, but don’t go too far. The script ends with highlights of collective frustration as it is discovered that this ‘do it, but don’t do it’ pattern is common across the board.
Script 7: You have the power to believe me
Subtitle: We are all empowered, but I am more empowered than others.
This plot is largely based on the concept of ‘We are all equal, but some of us are more equal than others’. Empowerment is a much-used buzzword in the organization and figures prominently in its mission statement. Life is relatively uneventful until a manager asks the question, “What does it mean?” The enraged top management responds with a long sermon on trust, culture, values and principles. The little boy asks again: “But what does it mean to be empowered?” The big guy says, “Look how empowered I am by the Board.” Graffiti begins to appear on walls, doors, and unsightly toilet partitions with statements about the credibility of the company’s rhetoric. The organization slowly dies from buzzword poisoning.
Script 8: Maximum responsibility, minimum authority
Subtitle: Great titles, great visibility, great blindness.
In this script, the responsibilities of the organization are well defined: everyone knows what they are responsible for. But hidden bits of toxicity come from giving staff the impression that they have the authority that goes with them. It turns out that this is simply not true. The authority lies elsewhere, with people who aren’t very responsible for anything other than amassing as much authority as possible. Managers’ egos are bolstered by big ‘responsible’ titles like Global Project Leader (a company equivalent of the UN Secretary General). Some of the staff discover that they have no real authority and run away from the organization. Those caught in go blind. The Big Titles game ends as more and more managers become suspicious of the mismatch between responsibility and authority. The CEO responds by creating a new layer of highly responsible managers with catchy titles on their business cards.
Script 9: Big goals, big future, big cuts
Subtítulo: We’re doing well but you’re fired.
Growth has been declared within the organization, and its annual results are not bad. The CEO declares high hopes and possibilities. Almost simultaneously, R&D is reduced by 20% and those who are in the wrong place at the wrong time are fired, regardless of their talent. The pattern repeats several times as the plot progresses, until a Pavlovian reflex develops: every time the CEO announces a “good year, great results, we need to grow,” the staff trembles.
Script 10: Boiling Frog
Subtitle: There are two ways to boil a frog and you should already feel a bit hot.
This is based on the old adage that there are two ways to boil a frog. One way is to get a pot of boiling water and drop the frog into it. The frog is burned, but quickly jumps out and survives. The second way is to put the frog in a pot of cold water and turn on the fire. The frog is very happy in its gradually warm and cozy environment until it boils over inadvertently. This script is offered for free interpretation and application to the lives of managers in organizations.
Script 11 – mathematics has never been my forte – it is based on a combination of the other ten. In this script, the managers believe that all the previous scripts are a bit of a joke, funny stories with barely worked out ideas, certainly not a reflection of real life, a bit of fun disguised as managerial thinking. Readers in script mode 11 might feel warm and welcoming. Please check that the heat is off.