Organizations of all kinds have to face the challenge of renewing their knowledge foundation and overcome the tendency to behave as if the present is a perfect clon of the past. If they are not successful with this critical task, they will hire, socialize, promote and reward newcomers for acting like imitations of those who came before them. People in organizations that use memory as a substitute for healthy and constructive thinking often do what has been done without reflecting. This is the syndrome of rutinization of organizational behavior and action.
Even though when conventional organizations realize that a totally new situation confront them, problem solving means and management practices are activated from past experiences to solve present problems. The memory of these organizations is genetized in precedents, customs of often unknown origin, stories about how things have always been, standard operating procedures, working ideologies, and previous codified knowledge. This is a kind of organizational recycling effect used as a substitute for creating wise action.
Recent psychological and organizational research shows that when people do something even a single time, this past action often becomes automatic, or mindless, guide for future action, even when the action undermines a person’s performance. The same thing occurs within organizations. They take action even for one time, and regardless of whether it is effective or not, make that way a standard operating procedures. This is why there are always good opportunities for improving and transforming standard operating procedures.
The strong reliance on how things have been done in the past makes it very difficult for efforts at incorporating new knowledge and trying to translate it into soundable action. Excessive reliance on memory banks, means that existing practices are rarely thought about, neither questioned or examined to see if they make sense in the context of new realities or of new goals and objectives that the organization is trying to accomplish. This condition is also related to the psychology of fear that prevents people acting on new knowledge. Even when people know that existing ways of doing things are flawed, they are often afraid to raise objections or to suggest new ways of working.
There are other occasions that even when people are assertively enough to question old ways to doing things, and provide good reasoning for why these practices should be discarded and replaced, they are often ignored or dropped-out. The point is that the power of precedent to guide action, even when the organization knows that is doing the wrong thing, is very dangerous policy.
The tyranny of the status quo is huge, allowing conventional management practices to persist even in the face of ineffectiveness and awareness of organizational leaders that such is the case. Healthy management should encourage questioning behavior, to have people take new assignments, dare to create and innovate, and pursue constructive and dramatic breaks with the past in an atmosphere of trust, safety and respect.
Copyright 2002 QBS, Inc.