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Organizational Inertia: The Antitheses of Deliberate Discomfort in the Workplace

By July 22, 2020No Comments

I’ve heard an increasing number of leaders question whether their company is “making real progress or if there is just a flurry of routine activity?

This question stems from a phenomenon known as organizational inertia. Organizational inertia is the tendency for a mature organization to become complacent, rigid, and even become resistant to change. In other words, they get trapped in traditional operational patterns and status quo becomes the standard by which we measure success. 

Every company experiences organizational inertia to a certain degree over the lifecycle of their business. Likewise, inertia will ebb and flow. Sometimes it’s high and other times it’s low. When organizational inertia is high, productivity suffers. Given the persistent speed of business, we can appreciate that when productivity suffers, companies struggle to maintain the competitive advantage, and even tenured organizations can fall short.

When organizational inertia is high, you may witness:

  • High performing and otherwise engaged employees zone out during meetings.
  • An outpouring of pushback when new policies or procedures are introduced.
  • A surge of missed opportunities due to a lack of employee initiative. 
  • A decline in customer satisfaction ratings because employees no longer want to go the extra mile.
  • A general reduction in innovative thought and engaging feedback throughout the workforce. 

In contrast, when it’s low, you may witness:

  • An increase in individual initiative & personal accountability.
  • Additional flexibility and openness to change across the enterprise.
  • Calculated risk-taking.
  • Collaboration with minimal conflict.
  • Reduced absenteeism.
  • An influx of feedback requests.

Now more than ever, leaders have to find ways to create heat, innovate on the pivot, disrupt the market, and stay one step ahead of the competition. We have to be cognizant of the times when high levels of inertia have set up shop in the organization. These are the contributors that lead to organizational inertia.

Boredom - A primary source of organizational inertia

Apart from poor company structure, a primary source of organizational inertia is boredom. Boredom is recognized as a discrete emotion that arises from the perception that the current situation is no longer stimulating or meaningful. 

Yet, like any emotion, boredom falls along a spectrum and can have both positive and negative effects on productivity and performance. When left unchecked boredom can cause an inability to focus, a lack of interest, process inefficiencies, and a sense of emptiness. All of which may lead to frustration, anger, and even depression. These effects create significant emotional barriers that fundamentally foster high organizational inertia. However, when consistently monitored and appropriately managed, boredom can serve as a catalyst for change, improved goal setting, and goal accomplishment, spark creativity, and help us get comfortable with the uncomfortable. 

4 techniques to combat boredom and mitigate organizational inertia

  • Show gratitude.
    • Say thank you often and recognize efforts even when things go wrong. Gratitude is an incredibly powerful (and extremely cost-effective) tool at your disposal. Displays of gratitude foster strong self-worth and self-efficacy helps build trust, and provide a renewed sense of meaning. 
  • Change physical environments.
    • Switch up conference rooms or encourage people to sit outside for the next virtual meeting. Offer standing desks or stability balls. Send the team out to lunch. Simply switching up the physical environment you routinely work in can shock the system and help re-focus and stimulate creativity.
  • Empower the workforce.
    • Invite the workforce to provide feedback on a recent relevant initiative. Solicit input on what tangible resources they need that will create efficiencies for them in the future. Boredom often stems from a lack of control. When we feel like we have little to no control we can easily lose interest and feel like tasks are meaningless.
  • Explain to your employees how their daily tasks and contributions impact the larger corporate mission.
    • Take the time to explain to your employees how their job aligns to company objectives and key results. Introduce them to someone in another department who has been directly impacted by the work they’ve done. Remember, boredom arises from the perception that the current situation is no longer meaningful. Show them just how meaningful they are!

If you find yourself asking whether your company is making real progress or if there is just a flurry of routine activity, aspects of high organizational inertia have likely started to set in. 

I encourage you to gather your management team/key influencers. Encourage them to apply the following techniques to combat boredom and mitigate the negative effects of high organizational inertia: