What Is an Unhealthy Organization and what to Do about it?

Every organization exists for a reason, which always has to be about serving something else. The very existence of any organization depends on that, since it is a well-defined reason that gives rise to a strong purpose. And it is exactly this purpose that drives the organization forward, thus allowing it to grow and prosper. In this sense therefore, a purposeful organization is a healthy organization. After all, a healthy organization is one that can be self-sustained by providing for its environment both now and in the future.

As long as the organization successfully serves an existing need and it does that by consuming resources that are less valuable than this need, is both effective and efficient in the short-term. Such an organization is a healthy organization today. An organization that can foresee future needs and can stay integrated when making the necessary transition is both effective and efficient in the long-run. Organizations that can do all are definitely healthy organizations. And quite obviously, the common denominator to the health of any organization is that its whole existence is based on serving something else.

If the premise of serving of something else is the cornerstone of the health of an organization then an unhealthy organization is one that does not do that. Some organizations do not have a purpose at all or even they may have profit-making as their sole purpose. And this is not rare at all! As they evolve, organizations become more and more systematized and inward-looking. Instead of actively identifying a purpose and serving an existing need, their purpose more and more becomes only to serve themselves. This is organizational aging, which is definitely an organizational illness which eventually signals the beginning of the end. Organizational illnesses sooner or later become fatal. It would therefore be quite important that organizational illness be diagnosed and how that could possibly be done is a million-dollar question! There are always signals…

As said, organizational aging is an illness and as such there are symptoms that can be identified. Young organizations are entrepreneurial and in this context, everything is permitted unless expressly forbidden. The opposite is true for unhealthy ones. Such organizations are bureaucratic. Everything is therefore forbidden unless expressly permitted. In young organizations the emphasis is on why and what has to be done, whereas in aging ones, the emphasis is on how and who has to do it. Young organizations get what they want and as a result, expectations exceed results. Aging organizations, on the other hand, simply want that they can get. Results therefore almost always exceed expectations. In young organizations function is important. On the contrary, in aging ones, what is important is just form. For young organizations problems are opportunities. For aging ones, the opposite is true. Opportunities are simply problems. Consequently, personal success in young organizations stems out of taking risks. On the contrary, personal success in aging ones stems from avoiding it. Young organizations are sales oriented, whereas aging ones are profit-obsessed. Finally, young organizations are in control by their management, whereas aging ones simply control it. There are therefore symptoms and manifestations! And here is always something even if the illness from which the organization suffers is not aging. Unhealthy organizations cannot however cure themselves and if this is so, what can be done about it is extremely important.

Since not all diseases are the same, unhealthy organizations need to be correctly diagnosed before they can be treated. After all, there is nothing like a pill for all diseases! And there are very specific and effective tools that can be used for accurate organizational diagnosis. Depending on the diagnosis, the right treatment, involving measures that may involve interventions at the cultural, the structural, the management process and the functional levels can be destined and acted upon. Of course, for a diagnosis and then for treatment to take place there has to be an understanding that something is wrong. It is of utmost importance that an organization understands that something is wrong. It all has to start there and if it does all possibilities are open!