The Inevitability of Organizational Death

Aging and death are natural-both for people and for organizations. Clearly an organization is not a biological entity, yet enough similarities exist to justify the parallel.

People have life cycles; when someone gets lucky, they are born, grow up, have kids, have grandkids, get sick, and die. This is natural. Yes, to some extent the aging process of an individual can be slowed down. But we all get old and die, and that is a best case scenario.

Organizations have life cycles as well. When they are conceived, they are crazy, sexy, innovative and informal-then they proceed along a path of aging as nature takes it course. Most organizations get very sick, get old (or prematurely old)  and die, or disappear in acquisitions or disasters such as sudden loss of market. Only few will last a long, long time. Death is part of organizational life.

If OD is to be true to its humanistic roots, we must cleanse ourselves from the denial of death. Life of a high quality needs to be prolonged, yet we need to better understand what can change and what cannot change. We need to acknowledge that an organization’s various illnesses and ultimate death are part of its life. 

OD needs to beware of over treating (yet another reorg) and over diagnosing (too much feedback when change is impossible). For many aging organizations , there are no “cures” or magic elixirs.

We much accept an organizations’ limitations & ultimate decay, which include containment of pain and eventually hospice. It do believe that there is an organizational parallel to the famed Dr Werner in the French Movie Country Doctor (Medecin de capagne), who deals with an elderly patients death with grace and dignity.