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Harwell’s Unfortunate Laws of Human Organizational Behavior

[Note: I wrote this on one of my more cynical days when my tongue seemed to be stuck in my cheek. For a newsletter article offering advice for new managers on how to minimize the effect of these laws on your own organization, click here.]

In the spirit of the Peter Principle and Parkinson’s Law, I’ve created my own set of laws that show how managers behave in organizations unless you explicitly take steps to prevent the behavior. The laws are deliberately extreme to make a point: human motivation is a funny thing, and you have to be very careful to align motivation and reward with the behavior you want. Here are the laws:

  1. People always try to use their experience even if it doesn’t apply to the current situation.
  2. If someone is brought in as the new manager of an organization, then the new manager will feel obligated to change the organization. Otherwise, what value is the manager contributing?
  3. If a manager doesn’t know how to improve an organization, then he/she will change it to look like the last organization that he/she remembers.
  4. Either things in an organization will get better or things will get worse. If things get better, then the manager will be rewarded, regardless of whether the manager is responsible for the improvement. If things get worse, then the manager will move on to another organization to try again.
  5. Sometimes things in an organization get a little better before they get a lot worse. If the manager is lucky, then he/she will be promoted to a better job before things start to get worse. Of course, then the cycle will start all over again.
  6. Rarely, a new manager will actually ask the employees what should be improved. If the employees understand how their organization contributes to the company’s overall performance, then they will undoubtedly provide a better answer than the manager’s experience.
  7. Sometimes the manager will hire a consultant. The consultant will then ask the employees what should be improved, and the result will be put into a PowerPoint® presentation, then ignored by the manager.
  8. Good organizations will continue to get better until someone in higher management decides they’re not good enough. Then they’ll get worse.
  9. Bad organizations will continue to get worse until a new manager tries an idea which should have been obvious from the beginning.
  10. If a company contains multiple similar organizations, then they will always be compared, but the true differences will not be discovered. The good organizations will get worse as a result of the comparison, and the bad organizations will get worse as well.

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