"The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." -St Irenaeus of Lyon

Concept of the day: Organizational hypocrisy

Political scientists have interesting lenses on the world, but today I learned about the idea of organizational hypocrisy.  I found it to be an intriguing concept to share with a broader audience.

“Organizational hypocrisy” carries a broad definition that the discourse, decisions, and actions of an organization may operate seemingly independent of one another.  In other words, talk does not necessitate action.  Particularly in institutions one may observe that vision statements differ significantly from reality on the ground.  Investigations and promises of institutional change occur over long time horizons and may placate persons who desire immediate change.

I think the presence of organizational hypocrisy is essential given how reforms can come in various high-pitched waves.  Many organizations work slowly to incorporate the latest fad.  Like any innovation decision, commitment comes through testing the various ideas.  If you can commit to a program in a piecemeal fashion over time, then it is much easier to envision moving more fully towards that program.

Change invites chaos.  The more an institution deals with people, the more sense it makes to try to mitigate chaos associated with change.  For instance, imagine living in a school district that adopted every educational fad suggested by a parent immediately.  The decision process simply wouldn’t work.  Sometimes people suggest things to organizations where the best response is politely diplomatic, “Thank you very much for your suggestion; we will consider the matter [relative to the stack of literature that suggests your suggestion would be remarkably bad for our context.]”

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2 responses

  1. Good point, but when I saw “Institutional Hypocrisy” I thought of something else.
    I don’t want to overgeneralize about all large, powerful institutions, but I’ll generalize about one I know fairly well, which sometimes is referred to as “Undue Purversity.”
    This large institution can profess sweetness, light, Truth, Justice and the American Way until the cows come home to the Ag School, but let some individual embarrass it and they are toast.
    Heck, let somebody cross its lawyer and he’ll inveigh with High enough Dudgeon to do an Inquisitor proud.
    Goals, visions, and principles aside: the survival of the institution comes first, and it will fulfill that first principle with utter ruthlessness (that, so far as I know, stops short only of murder and mayhem).
    I suspect (remember, I don’t want to overgeneralize) that this is true of all large institutions. How could it be otherwise? How could a large institution allow one errant member bring down the whole edifice? “It is expedient that one should die” if only figuratively.
    If anyone knows a big institution of which this isn’t true, speak up.

    26 October 2010 at 2:48 am

    • Yes, you have made a good observation regarding organizational hypocrisy. When people assume alignment of aspirations, decisions and actions, they assume that the institution is acting purposefully. However, if one takes the viewpoint that most organizations seek simply to survive, then organizational hypocrisy suggests one mechanism available to foster this survival. Instead of being a purposeful actor, the organization is a self-interested survivalist.

      26 October 2010 at 6:44 am

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