The Passive-Aggressive Organization

Healthy companies are hard to mistake. Their managers have access to timely information, the authority to make decisions, and the incentives to act on behalf of the organization. The organization, in turn, carries out those decisions. We call these organizations “resilient,” because they can react nimbly to challenges and respond quickly to those they can’t dodge. Unfortunately, most companies are not resilient: Fewer than 20 percent of the 30,000 individuals who responded to a Booz Allen Hamilton survey describe their organizations that way. By contrast, more than a quarter of the companies in our survey suffer from a cluster of pathologies we place under the label “passive-aggressive.” The passive-aggressive organization displays a quiet but tenacious resistance to corporate directives, even when they are aligned with obvious strategic or competitive advantage. People pay those directives lip service but put in only enough effort to appear compliant; and “nothing ever changes around here.”

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