Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 16;   April 16, 2008: Organizational Loss: Searching Behavior

Organizational Loss: Searching Behavior

by

When organizations suffer painful losses, their responses can sometimes be destructive, further harming the organization and its people. Here are some typical patterns of destructive responses to organizational loss.
The Lincoln Memorial at sunrise

The Lincoln Memorial at sunrise. The Lincoln Memorial appears on the reverse side of the U.S. one cent coin. It was on the steps of this memorial that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. For inspiration and the ability to awe, this memorial is unsurpassed. Many cultures build memorials, and most are appropriate. It is the organizational memorial thatøs sometimes a little over the top. If your organization has memorials, compare them to your national memorials for proportionality. Photo courtesy U.S. National Park Service.

With personal grief, there is a phenomenon known as searching behavior. The aggrieved might imagine sightings of the lost loved one, or even apparitions. Sometimes these experiences can be unsettling — the aggrieved can't put their loved ones out of their minds. They're distracted. They can't think straight.

Something similar happens to organizations.

Just like personal loss, organizational loss can take many forms. A company can suffer dramatic market reversals, lose market dominance, suffer a damaging product recall, endure a series of increasingly severe layoffs, and suffer the death of a dynamic leader, or even its founder.

In organizational grief, searching behavior can take bizarre forms. Here are some of them.

Delusional market opportunities
After the organization loses a market opportunity, market opportunities can actually be hallucinated. The group might identify and vigorously pursue strategies or tactics that hearken back to the lost opportunity.
Today's market opportunities don't necessarily align with yesterday's. To move forward, the organization might have to try something new.
Recovering lost dominance
After the organization loses a dominant market position of long standing, it might "discover" a strategy to restore market dominance even when other healthier firms firmly control the market. Or it might try to restore a position now plainly fragmented by new technologies, new ideas or natural events.
Dominance usually goes to those who provide a solution that's some mixture of "right" and "early." Asking for do-overs rarely pays off.
One lesson of the past
that usually bears
repeating is modesty
The founder's museum
In personal loss, attachment to the personal effects of the loved one is common. The organizational form is similar. Firms that have lost their founder and come on hard times financially might devote precious resources to constructing monuments, museums, or displays. A portrait, a bust or even a statue might be reasonable for most, but museums dedicated to displaying the effects of the founder are much bigger investments.
Displays that emphasize the lessons of the past, in some proportional way, can be inspiring. One lesson of the past that usually bears repeating is modesty.
The memorial prize or medal
Some organizations establish scholarships or prizes in the names of their lost founders or leaders. The resources are expended with little regard for the financial returns, often in the hope that the activity will inspire or motivate employees, or bring honor to the organization.
While maintaining connection to the person lost is certainly a valid goal, especially for those who feel personal loss, keep in mind the effects of award frequency. Annual awards aren't likely to encourage contributions that match the scale of the contributions of the person being memorialized.

These behaviors can be either healthy or not. Two factors distinguish the unhealthy: the proportionality of the effort, and the scale of the investment compared to the possible organizational benefit. Both are difficult to quantify, but if you feel a twinge of embarrassment, consider it an indicator of trouble. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Risky Role of Hands-On Project Manager  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenYLujzwLozYyLmwdNner@ChacokeCCCooVNdAJuzxoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Wildflowers in the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National ForestsRenewal
Renewal is a time to step out of your usual routine and re-energize. We find renewal in weekends, vacations, days off, even in a special evening or hour in the midst of our usual pattern. Renewal provides perspective. It's a climb to the mountaintop to see if we're heading in the right direction.
The Night Café, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888Changing the Subject: II
Sometimes, in conversation, we must change the subject, but we also do it to dominate, manipulate, or assert power. Subject changing — and controlling its use — can be important political skills.
A single-strand knotTangled Thread Troubles
Even when we use a facilitator to manage a discussion, managing a queue for contributors can sometimes lead to problems. Here's a little catalog of those difficulties.
A senator rests on a cot in the Old Senate Chamber during a filibusterUntangling Tangled Threads
In energetic discussions, topics and subtopics get intertwined. The tangles can be frustrating. Here's a collection of techniques for minimizing tangles in complex discussions.
"Taking an observation at the pole."Risk Management Risk: II
Risk Management Risk is the risk that a particular risk management plan is deficient. Here are some guidelines for reducing risk management risk arising from risk interactions and change.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York CityComing August 23: Look Where You Aren't Looking
Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve our ability to prepare for adverse events? Available here and by RSS on August 23.
"The Thinker," by Auguste RodinAnd on August 30: They Just Don't Understand
When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others. The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others. Available here and by RSS on August 30.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenSYqMfoiYCITMtsztner@ChacwJmSnIVFvnxNOZLGoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Join the Organizational Politics Group at LinkedIn.comJoin the Office Politics, Workplace Politics and Organizational Politics discussion group at LinkedIn.com, the premier professional networking Web site.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.