5 Pieces of Passive Organizational Culture

denialThe primary purpose of employees in a passive culture is to please the people to whom they report so as to protect their position from any potential peril. (sorry–did it again, didn’t I…)

Employees want to keep their heads down, not cause a stir, not make waves, not stand out, not ask questions, and not be perceived as anything other than exactly what they think those further up the organizational chart want to see. Now why they feel those things is for another post, but suffice it to say that those feelings don’t just come from nowhere.

The pieces of a passive culture are:

1. Limited laughter.

Work isn’t a place for glee or mirth. It’s not a place for laughter or happiness. It’s a place for work. So sit down, stare at your screen, and do your work.

…That’s what employees in a passive culture try to convince themselves every day.

2. Employees are always asking for approval.

In this environment, empowerment is more of a punchline than a workplace philosophy. The worst part is that sometimes an organization will say they want or even have empowered employees, but then they place so many obstacles in the way of employees actually being able to make stuff happen. That’s often more frustrating than if an organization just came out and said, “We will not be empowering you. Just punch the clock and do as you’re told.” At least that’s clear and there’s no doubt what the expectation is.

3. If it ain’t traditional, it’s taboo.

There are certain things you just don’t say or do, and that’s pretty much anything that’s not already been said or done. If it’s not safe, conservative, and entirely predictable, employees in this atmosphere know not to do it.Hear_No_Evil_See_No_Evil_Speak_No_Evil

4. Follow the leader feels more like duck-duck-goose.

In a passive culture, employees are reduced not to just following leaders; but essentially sitting around waiting to get tapped on the head, at which point they’ll jump up and chase their leaders in circles, desperate not to lose their jobs.

5. Employees can be themselves, as long as they’re just like everyone else.

Many times they feel pressure to act and behave in ways that run contrary to who they actually are at their core. Settle down, existentialists. Disappointing though it may be, we simply don’t have time to chase that bunny down that trail.

A passive culture. It’s one ruled by employees on auto-pilot, religiously adhering to accepted rules, regulations, traditions, norms, and procedures. Those things take precedence over beliefs, attitudes, judgement, independent thinking, and creativity. But what do you think? What else might we see in a passive culture?

5 thoughts on “5 Pieces of Passive Organizational Culture

  • There could be a feeling of the risk is not worth the reward. That is, if you stand out from the crowd, be prepared to get crushed. This could be an idea, performance, feedback, etc. While the idea, etc. may be fantastic, no one is willing to go through the bashing to get it implemented.

    For some reason the thought of avoidance comes to mind.

  • Two types of people work there: those who don’t and those who never leave.

    The first type speaks to a high turnover rate. The dynamic individuals don’t last long as the atmosphere crushes their creativity and personality. It’s not long before they’re off to more stimulating environments.

    The second type are people, who’ve been there for years, have acclimated to the atmosphere. They generally have all the personal vivacity of a cardboard cutout.

    OK, so those two types are stereotypical and simplified, but the general point remains: passive organizations either don’t attract or can’t retain creative, forward-thinkers.

  • Very valid but incomplete article. i know this as my last assignment was in such an organisation. The points I would like to add here are that most organisations of this type are entrepreneurial in nature where people are great in the core biz but are pathetic managers when there is critical size. Most of this culture is promoted by them as there is a huge sense of insecurity. This insecurity comes from ensuring that people working for them do not emulate them and become competitors.

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