butterfly effect, Toby Elwin, blog

Organization sabotage and the butterfly effect

toby elwin, butterfly effect, organization development, change management, organization sabotage

Follow along, this is all very simple …

Too many professionals believe all you need to run a team, manage a group, or lead a project is to line people up and bellow, “ready, steady, go”.

Once exhorted, expectation is that the wee folk across the organization hum along with no further guidance, motivation, communication, or care to stand in the way.

Expectation is set that all purpose aligns to the professional and to the organization.  However, when a professional feels people are not as motivated as expected, organization sabotage is the culprit.

I use the word sabotage because too many professionals believe another’s salary provides their intrinsic motivation.  If paid, goes the dime-store psychology then the bottom-line for motivation is solved.  Taken, to a further absurd point, and debated in a recent HR organization, that employee motivation comes from getting paid, translation:  people get paid, motivation resolved.

Unfortunately, many of those same professionals also believe you plug people in and they automatically fall in line.  Only in a moment of extreme agitation might they offer the masses a Starbucks Gift Card to get people back in line.

The Saboteur Chrysalis

If the professional feels effort does not align to their expectation sabotage seems the culprit.  They spit and fume and fuss and organize a project to resolve the organization sabotage.

Why call it sabotage?

What constitutes sabotage?

  1. Low level of collaboration / difficulty meeting objectives
    • Limited buy-in and support
    • Lack of employee motivation
    • Increasing resistance to transformation and change
    • Lack of alignment across key stakeholders and business leaders
    • Potential conflicts due to lingering non-addressed issues and differences
  2. Operational obstacles and delays
    • Lack of alignment of business and critical support functions
    • Difficulties and misunderstandings in communication due to unclear objectives, varying expectations and competing business priorities
    • Eroding trust and loss of good people
    • Loss of productivity
  3. Loss of leadership credibility
    • Lack of accountability or empowerment with the teams
    • Early results not sustained
    • Difficulties on implementing the transformation initiatives

To combat sabotage, enter:  the intervention.

Straight Line Depreciation

The organization development (OD) world might call for an intervention:  Organization interventions are principal learning processes in the “action” stage of organization development*.

Since the majority of professionals are distinctly NOT part of, or aware of, OD, they might simple call their mandate a project – be it change, culture, or transformation related.

And crucial for any intervention:  manage expectations.

Managing expectation really means:  at project diagnose, design, and implementation no expectation exists for a linear path to success.  There is no linear projection because people stumble, people get confused, and people need constant communication to move towards a shared goal.

Linear progress is unreasonable nay delusional, incompetent, uneducated, and presents a wide range of irresponsible and unprofessional prejudice.

Linear results are as unreasonable in an intervention to combat sabotage as it is for people expect linear results in a dieting, an effort to stop smoking, an effort to communicate to their partner better, or for results at a gym.  Some days it is progress, some days it is a struggle.  Over the long-term and with commitment to achieve results.

Change Linear Thinking

A transition from sabotage to development, in reality needs to expect natural dips and changes of direction – it simply can’t expect a straight-line trajectory.  As change surrounds you, the team, or the organization, managing new roles, requirements, and skills brings uncertainty.

Like sabotage, an intervention is less a linear direction and more like a flight of the butterfly.

Though a butterfly’s flight is a bit raged, the butterfly does arrive.

And to hang another yoke around our butterfly’s allegorical neck manage intervention expectation as a the butterfly effect:  small differences in the initial condition, for example:  lack of motivation, may produce large variations in the long-term behavior.

The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in a certain location.

The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events (compare: domino effect).  Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different.

While the butterfly does not ’cause’ the tornado in the sense of providing the energy for the tornado, it does “cause” it in the sense that the flap of its wings is an essential part of the initial conditions resulting in a tornado, and without that flap that particular tornado would not have existed.

Thinking through change with the end-state in mind helps manage expectation, manage resources, and, importantly, manage motivation.

The butterfly effect has a both a positive and negative impact, but diagnosing, designing, and continually monitoring your organization’s health throughout all stages of growth and operations, limits sabotage and the need for radical interventions – this is a commitment to your organization’s health and that is sustainability.

*Richard Arvid Johnson (1976). Management, systems, and society: an introduction. Pacific Palisades, Calif.: Goodyear Pub. Co.. pp. 224–226.

Another good read is:  Reducing Employee Sabotage, this article from Human Resource Executive Online outlines physical or plant and equipment sabotage.  But offers insight into all forms including those above.

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Comments 2

  1. Hi Toby I think a big problem is a lot of people don’t like change. They get comfortable this then effects development and this then effects the ability to move forward. Therefore things get stagnated and wither. This goes for all aspects of life not only in the work place but outside and also in the home.

    Great article thanks lee

    1. Post
      Author

      Perhaps people are tired of promises that inflate the upside of change without addressing the challenges change brings: what to stop, what to start, and what to continue.

      We are creatures of habit, so any change offers challenge. I’ve come to see self-directed change difficult for most as a change option usually only comes about for a desired future-state or an undesirable current-state. For current-state to be so painful people can ignore much.

      Our role is to set the future-state up for the potential and possibility it brings, acknowledge effort, and steward sanity along the way.

      Where have you seen change most readily adopted and what where elements you could offer others who chart a change course?

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