What Is Organizational Aging and what to Do about It?

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Organizations are born in order to serve a purpose. And this purpose is in turn always about serving somebody or something else. There simply has to be a need that needs to be satisfied for an organization to be born. It is however only when the commitment of the founder to the idea overcomes his or her perceived risk, that the organization may come to life. Organizations are therefore born out of an entrepreneurial glimpse in the eyes of their founder and it is this entrepreneurial spirit that drives them all the way through as they grow. However, entrepreneurship is not enough for organizations to prosper…

As they grow, organizations need to become more systematized. Entrepreneurship offers flexibility. However, control is also important. Organizational effectiveness is simply not enough. Organizations have to be efficient too. And they have to be both effective and efficient both in the short and in the long term. As organizations grow therefore they introduce controls. Controls increase efficiency. Inevitably however, they result in less flexibility! That could be just fine but there is a problem…

Controls always give birth to new controls. And the introduction of controls is simply always easier than the introduction of new ideas. Inevitably, a point is reached when entrepreneurship starts to decline and controls take over. It is exactly at this point when the organization starts to age. And when that happens, it can only continue at an accelerating rate, unless something is done about it. Aging organizations inevitably serve nothing but their selves. This is like cancer, organizational cancer! And cancer inevitably leads to death. Organizations however need not die. They can and they may live forever and there are things that can be done towards this direction.

In medicine it is said that it is always better to predict, to pro-act and to avoid rather than to cure! The same holds true for organizations. Organizational aging, exactly like cancer, needs to be treated with surgery and surgeries are both bloody and risky at the same time. Organizations therefore need to take measures against aging in a decisive and timely manner. They both can and have to do something about it!