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? rbrenfPisQwhtshXzxJVvner@ChacUYLEiQVcXCoqJzufoCanyon.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.
A hiker in the La Primavera calderaCommitment Makes It Easier
When you face obstacles, sometimes the path around or through them is difficult. Committing yourself to the path lets you focus all your energy on the path you've chosen.
A rowboatFiguring Out What to Do First
Whether we belong to a small project team or to an executive team, we have limited resources and seemingly unlimited problems to deal with. How do we decide which problems are important? How do we decide where to focus our attention first?
The Mars Climate Orbiter, which was lost in 1999Ten Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: I
One of the "truisms" floating around is that "You get what you measure." Belief in this assertion has led many to a metrics-based style of management, but the results have been uneven at best. Why?
C. Northcote Parkinson in 1961Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A meeting held in a long conference room.Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
A dictionaryAnd on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenfPisQwhtshXzxJVvner@ChacUYLEiQVcXCoqJzufoCanyon.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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. 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.