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

Last updated: December 1, 2019

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 that's 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? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:

If only I were a florist?Don't Worry, Anticipate!
Dramatic changes in policy or procedure are often challenging, especially when they have some boneheaded components. But by accepting them, by anticipating what you can, and by applying Pareto's principle, you can usually find a safe path that suits you.
Horns of a dilemmaChoices for Widening Choices
Choosing is easy when you don't have much to choose from. That's one reason why groups sometimes don't recognize all the possibilities — they're happiest when choosing is easy. When we notice this happening, what can we do about it?
The Marx brothers: Chico, Harpo, Groucho and ZeppoTINOs: Teams in Name Only
Perhaps the most significant difference between face-to-face teams and virtual or distributed teams is their potential to develop from workgroups into true teams — an area in which virtual or distributed teams are at a decided disadvantage. Often, virtual and distributed teams are teams in name only.
Eggs Sardou at Lucile's: poached eggs, creamed spinach, gulf shrimp, gritsManagement Debt: II
As with technical debt, we incur management debt when we make choices that carry with them recurring costs. How can we quantify management debt?
Governor Scott Walker of WisconsinIndicators of Lock-In: I
In group decision-making, lock-in occurs when the group persists in adhering to its chosen course even though superior alternatives exist. Lock-in can be disastrous for problem-solving organizations. What are some common indicators of lock-in?

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A model of a space station proposed in 1952 by Wernher von BraunComing January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
Three gulls excluding a fourthAnd on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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 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 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.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
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.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.