Has Your Organization Reached an Impasse?

Is your organization unable to change in the face of forces and threats from the business environment? Are you struggling against overly complex systems that frustrate and undermine your attempts to create positive change? Is your organization activity focused, rather than outcome focused? Does vital business information get filtered, altered, or stopped as it moves up and down through the organizational structure? Do you make key decisions that go unimplemented, or get reversed after-the-fact? Is there a gap between the formal (written) rules for how things get done, and the informal (unwritten) rules for how things really get done? Does your organization’s culture act like an Invisible Bureaucracy™ that prevents you from getting the results you want? These are some of the signs that your organization has reached an impasse.

One of the problems with identifying and moving beyond an organizational impasse is that managers and staff members are actively involved in the ways of working and patterns-of-interaction that create and sustain the impasse, and they don’t recognize it because these day-to-day operations are on autopilot and are organizational Blind Spots; e.g., things that others know about how an organization operates that managers and staff don't. Often, an organization is the last to know what customers, suppliers, and competitors have known all along – an organization says it has customer focus, but then defends itself against customer feedback; it says it’s committed to providing quality services, but then doesn’t deliver on commitments. It’s also difficult to know when you’ve reached an impasse, because organizations have sophisticated algorithms for managing information that they receive from the business environment when it doesn’t “map” onto how they “see” themselves and their corporate self-image. These algorithms function like organizational defense routines that are designed to select inputs that agree with an organization’s perception of itself, and ignore or dismiss the rest.

Recognizing that an organization is at an impasse almost always requires a burning platform and there are two kinds of burning platforms: reactive and proactive. The reactive kind is when managers wait until a situation has gone critical to seek help or try to alter ineffective organizational performance and destructive patterns-of-interaction. Alternatively, managers who adopt the proactive kind of burning platform realize that while the situation may not be critical right now, it probably will be if they allow these performance problems to continue frustrating and undermining their organization’s ability to get its desired results. When confronted with the signs of being at an impasse, managers and their staff often ask the question, “How bad are we hurting?” If the answer is, “Not that bad,” then things normally go on as they are, until the next crisis raises its ugly head.

One of the strongest and most robust indicators of whether an organization has reached an impasse is the extent to which it has an intended, rather than unintended culture. An Intended Culture™ is consciously configured to achieve an organization’s desired results; e.g., its goals and objectives. An Unintended Culture™ tends to be riddled with ineffective autopilot operations and Invisible Bureaucracy that derail, frustrate, and undermine achieving goals and objectives, and is a strong indicator that an organization has reached an impasse. An organization’s ability to change and adapt with conscious intention is the true test of the degree to which its culture is consciously chosen (intended) to achieve specific ends.

Creating an Intended Culture helps an organization move beyond impasses, and transforms its culture into a powerful resource that effectively performs day-to-day operations on autopilot; e.g., effectively and seamlessly without thinking about them. When done effectively, autopilot operations can be your greatest ally because they increase your ability to compete and achieve your goals. But in most cases the autopilot operations that typify an Unintended Culture and organizational impasses are self-defeating because they perpetuate problems with work performance, communication, interpersonal conflict, and decision-making, and then derail attempts to create positive change. Creating an Intended Culture requires managers to use a four-step process to: a) take ineffective ways of working and patterns-of-interaction off autopilot and raise them back into personal and organizational awareness, b) reconfigure ineffective processes and behaviors to get different results, c) migrate the new more effective ways of working and patterns-of-interaction back to autopilot operations through repetition, and d) define a path forward for achieving an organization’s goals and objectives that embeds these changes over time so they’re sustainable. Bottom Line: Understanding the invisible forces that bring organizations to an impasse and then realigning them through this four-step process begins to transform “culture” into a reliable resource that can be intentionally used to achieve an organization’s goals and objectives.

Organizational Impasse Indicator™

Does your organization find it difficult to make key decisions, and once made do they go unimplemented or get reversed? Do projects that seem to have the full support of top managers and key personnel die a slow death and no one knows what happened to them? Have the change and improvement initiatives conducted in your organization shown failed or marginal results? Does your organization’s culture act like an Invisible Bureaucracy™ that prevents you from getting the results you want? These are some of the signs that your organization has reached an impasse. The Breckenridge Institute’s free Organizational Impasse Indicator™ will show you what this may be costing you in squandered time and energy – hidden costs that don’t appear on Balance Sheets or Budget Statements.

Free Organizational Impasse Indicator™

Just click on the link above, complete the questions in 2-3 minutes, and your free Organizational Impasse Indicator™ report will be sent directly to you. This is the first step to making invisible bureaucracy visible and to moving beyond the organizational impasses that prevent your organization from getting the results it wants.

HBR Editor’s Blog

Every month, the senior editors of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) invite internationally recognized organizational theorists and practitioners to raise issues and answer questions about leadership and management issues on the HBR Editor’s Blog. This month, we provide Pinnacle readers with links to two important and interesting discussions (see below).

HBR Editors, The Decade in Management Ideas
Bill Taylor, 70 Words of (Unconventional) Wisdom for 2010

We encourage you to join the conversation on the HBR Editor’s Blog and voice your opinions, commentary, and insights on these and other important topics.


Mark Bodnarczuk has published a new book entitled, Making Invisible Bureaucracy Visible: A Guide to Assessing and Changing Organizational Culture. It is available in book stores and on websites like Amazon.com world-wide.
One of our key Partners, Qualifying.org, is offering an on-line, web-based certification program for theBreckenridge Culture Indicator (BCI™) Level I which will allow you to administer the BCI™ in organizations. For more information contact Roger Pearman at pearman@leadership-systems.com or by phone at 336-774-0330, or visit their website at www.qualifying.org.
Mark Bodnarczuk has been invited to speak about his new book, Making Invisible Bureaucracy Visible at the upcoming ShareOn Conference in St. Paul in February 2010. For details on attending this exciting organization development conference go to www.goshareon.com/forum/index.html or download the free brochure.
Mark Bodnarczuk has been invited to speak about his book, The Breckenridge Enneagram at the upcoming European Type Conference in Berlin in May 2010. For details on attending this exciting international conference go to www.typeconference.eu.
For a more complete listing of on-line videos, books, articles, and white papers from the Breckenridge Institute® go to http://www.breckenridgeinstitute.com/our-publications.htm.

Breckenridge Institute®

If you would like information about the Breckenridge Institute’s research activities, portfolio of assessment tools, or consulting services, visit our website at www.breckenridgeinstitute.com. Also visit http://www.linkedin.com/in/markbodnarczuk.

Copyright © Breckenridge Institute® 2010. All Rights Reserved
Underwater Photo: © Annie Crawley, 2010, www.anniecrawley.com


Culture Corner

“Organizational defense routines make it highly likely that individuals, groups, and organizations will not detect and correct errors that are embarrassing and threatening because the fundamental rules are to (1) bypass the errors and act as if they were not being done, (2) make the bypass undiscussible, and (3) make its undiscussability undiscussible.”

Chris Argyris, Overcoming Organizational Defenses


The Breckenridge Culture Indicator™ (BCI™)

The new Breckenridge Culture Indicator™ (BCI™) is used to baseline organizational performance and culture and to help define a performance improvement strategy that includes both the “hard” technical side of integrating business systems with the “soft” human side of an organization. Because it can be used to baseline the performance and culture of an entire organization or a work-group, the BCI™ is typically used by top managers, business owners, and middle-managers when they are anticipating or experiencing significant change due to, substantial growth; reorganizations; changes in leadership; change in strategic direction; decline in business performance; mergers and acquisitions; sale or spin-off of business units; or major IT implementations. It can also be used as an effective alternative to 360-degree reviews because it allows you to evaluate a manager’s leadership and management skills, within the context of an organization’s structures, systems, and culture. The BCI™ is now available to qualified users 24X7 anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.

Contact Elin Larson for details on how you can begin using this exciting new tool in your organization or with your clients (970-389-4666 or elin@breckenridgeinstitute.com).

Books and Articles

Mark Bodnarczuk, Making Invisible Bureaucracy Visible

Most managers struggle against the flow of overly complex systems and are frustrated by an invisible force that undermines their attempts to effect positive change. Their instincts tell them that the organization’s structures, systems, and culture are preventing them from getting the results they want, but “culture” has remained one of the least understood aspects of organizational life – until now. This book reveals how organizational culture can act like an Invisible Bureaucracy™ that frustrates and undermines organizational performance. The author argues that assessing and changing organizational culture is of little value unless it is focused on real business challenges. Understanding how the forces of Invisible Bureaucracy actually work begins to transform “culture” into a reliable resource that can be intentionally used to achieve an organization’s goals and objectives. Like a pair of infra-red glasses allows you to see things at night, the material in this book will make Invisible Bureaucracy visible. Once you’ve learned to “see” differently, you’ll never view organizations (or the people in them) the same way again. Here’s what reviewers are saying about Making Invisible Bureaucracy Visible.

“Bodnarczuk makes organizational culture understandable, practical, and usable. His numerous concrete examples give life to a simple yet comprehensive theory of culture, making both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of day-to-day operations in organizations meaningful. Any serious student of culture, change, or organizational assessment will benefit from reading and using this book.”

Richard Bents, Ph.D., Founding Partner, ShareOn, Corporate Leader Resources

“In this important new book, Mark Bodnarczuk has given us tools for working objectively with that elusive subject, organizational culture. He frames the subject as an integration of the ‘hard’ structures-and-systems school, on the one hand, and the ‘soft’ human-performance perspective, on the other – asserting that understanding culture brings the two together. His rigorous methods ensure that the hidden or auto-pilot aspects of organizations can be brought into awareness to increase flexibility and effectiveness. These are powerful ideas in an era of rapid change and innovation.”

Don Fowke, SM, P.Eng. FCMC, Co-Founder, New Management Network

“If your organization is interested in sustainability, then culture competence is a must. Mark Bodnarczuk’s book is an essential ‘radar’ system for doing