The 7 Signs of Organizational Inertia

There is plenty of action in the economy to keep even the most disinterested engaged with the fireworks and the scuttling.

While organizations and individuals tighten their cost belts and strengthen the execution of their strategy, one factor can escape even the most keen observer. And that is the current state of affairs within the organization.

This internal state is an amalgam of the hard and soft factors that make up the existence and functioning of an organization. The greatest strategy and analysis can all be sucked into the quicksand of ‘Organizational inertia’.

Hence leaders who are keen to get things done would do well to check if their organizations are afflicted with this inertia factor.

Organizational Inertia, revealed by the following 7 signs-

1) The product ‘strategy’ consists of PR statements only

After a whole load of analysis, the decision is an incremental juggling of feature sets and reprioritization. All this delivered with a significant PR buzz. Speak to a cross section of people on the ground to see if they are enthused by the direction the products are to take. If all this sounds luke warm or downright cold you know something is not right or has been lost while making the distance between strategy and execution.

2) The Grand Technology Platform will solve all problems

Watch out for the grand daddy technology platform syndrome. And steer clear away from it. Unless you want to while away your time and not actually work on anything. Every time I have heard about such all encompassing platforms I cringe at the train wreck that is coming close. Every time such projects have failed to accomplish their original goals.

3) Teams spend their lives propping up the old systems, processes

What proportion of effort does the team spend in activities that would prop up the organization’s future? If the answer is none to minimal, then be assured you are looking at a unmotivated, or at least soon to be unmotivated, workforce. It is not enough if the board room thinks about the future of the organization, you need the rank and file to dream up ideas deal with challenges. Need to have systems and processes in place to harness these ideas.

4) Each organizational unit views the strategy elephant in its own way.

It is not enough to have a strategy and send mails and print posters about it. Once its propagated to the entire org, follow up to see if all the details have been understood and perceived in the same way the strategists had seen it. Of course not every function should understand the idea in all its complexity, in some cases it might not even be feasible. But there should be no discordant perception. Ensure this is not the case by talking to a cross section of people and having middle management do the same.

5) Your teams talk and gossip about internal factors more than about the competition and the marketplace.

This is tricky to verify. But the surest way to ruin is this. With the pace of technology and lowering of threshold for established organizations to be questioned, it would be fatal for people to indulge in this mind set. If you see this behaviour, then switch on your warning signs and begin engaging your teams to understand causes and work upon addressing those

6) Skill in execution is to undergo another re-organization.

Some organizations do re-orgs as a spectator sport. Every change in leadership goes about performing this circus. The endless mails about faith in team, amount of skill available, phenomenal opportunities must be a common occurrence in most organizations. Instead of focusing on getting things right or even understanding what is there already, its perhaps a ritual for leaders to go about shuffling things. I understand this is an oversimplification but wanted raise this point as it can easily seem indispensable. 

7) Plenty of naked emperors ambling around.

These are the white elephants in the room. Sucking out precious resources and sapping out the enthusiasm. No one dare touch them. They are just there, until forced out. Frankly, I have no clue how to handle these. It amazing how people above them can tolerate these even for a second.

Now, a question. Do you think these signs are enough to recognize inertia? What other factors would you add to it?

[update: @polycontextual adds “discordance between organizational identity (internal) and organizational image (external)”. Once I have more feedback shall update this post with the ideas that have come up.]

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