Decline and fall
29th September 2008
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In the last five thousand years or so, human history has seen many great empires, and every single one of them has fallen. There must be a lesson to be learned here about large organizations controlled by an elite - they carry the seeds of their own destruction! I would suggest that this is because successors can never sustain the winning formula established in a bygone age. Changing circumstances of course inevitably undermine organizations that fail to adapt, but that is only one factor.

More significant factors in the demise of an organization are the human frailties of selfishness and apathy. The fact is that if you are a successor or recruit, the organization simply isn't "your baby". You had no hand in its creation, you just "fit in". If you have sufficient opportunity, you will inevitably bend your role as far as you can to suit yourself, ignoring what you don't like and introducing new ideas. With everyone else doing this, it isn't too long before some principles basic to the organization's sucess get ditched, and the rot then sets in.

However, organizations are a bit like the liver - it takes so long before the symptoms manifest that by then it is too diseased to save. Businesses can go on for decades making profits and having healthy order books whilst going rotten at the core, until suddenly, like a rotting wooden door, one tiny shove and the whole thing suddenly collapses.

I have seen first hand this rot in action - years of complacency, underinvestment, ignoring problems that were not an immediate threat, but no one cared because there was a profit being made. But when finally the cash stops coming in, the whole rotten edifice is beyond restoration.

Only the ones at the top who give their captains a chance to speak freely without threats hanging over them about what's happening at the shop floor have any hope of turning the ship round. All too often, edicts get issued from head office that simply do not take account of the realities on the ground, so are not only doomed to failure but are also breeding cynicism, resentment and low morale amongst the foot soldiers.The top execs don't seem to realise that to give themselves an easy life, those who serve them will happily distort reality if not blatantly lie and happily report everything's rosy in the garden when the dandelions have long since taken over. With those on lower tiers all doing the same, the ivory towers of head office are clueless to the truth, and seem oblivious to the fact that their routine visits to the shop floor involve a temporary change of routine well planned in advance and ditched quickly after.

Whether you are the top guy, the middle manager or the cleaner, you all just don't want the hassle of stuff that is not in your job description, so the exec delegates to the manager who knows full well the edict cannot be done and the cleaner ignores it knowing he won't be checked up on so often.

These are of course sweeping generalizations, but if you've been employed by a reasonably large organization, you know what I'm saying is true! When all is said and done, all things have their day, age and die, be they people or organizations. The individual inevitably dies and so eventually will the whole species to be replaced by younger fitter better adapted types. How should an individual respond? Well at the end of the day, if you're going to leave anyway, through retirement or pastures new before it all goes belly up, who cares?

Of course, decline and fall needn't happen on your watch. If you are an enlightened exec, you may have the power to bring revival to your organization. Listen to your captains, go see what's really going on the shop floor, treat people like human beings not machines and statistics, bring in some talented new blood and the odd wise consultant, and introduce policies that really work, then at least you will be able to say that you left the empire stronger than when you inherited it.

About the Author


Member since: 26th April 2012

I am a fully qualified and experienced hypnotherapist, Reiki practitioner and Stress Counsellor, based in Undercliffe, Bradford. I am proud to be a volunteer therapist for Bradford Cancer Support

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