Senescence and Senility in the Workplace

Posted by jlubans on September 19, 2012

Parkinson, in 1957, made several observations* about organizational decay. He diagnosed the condition, naming it “Injelititis”, and prescribed cures.
Injelitance results in a moldering organization, its leadership “plodding and dull”. The injelitant leader does not seem to mind or notice that not much is getting done. When called upon to do better, his or her response is MORE: people, money, and equipment. When asked to streamline operations, he responds: “Everything we do is valuable and cannot be modified or improved without MORE ….” My book, Leading from the Middle, describes several instances when I encountered on the job what I would now term injelititis .
This torpor is self-induced and the unfortunate prognosis leads to a final coma.
As to causes, “The first sign of danger is represented by the appearance in the organization’s hierarchy of an individual who combines in himself a high concentration of incompetence and jealousy.” (INcompetence + JELousy portmanteaus into INJELititis.)
(I would say a jealous but adequately competent boss can do almost as much damage.)
The injelitant- marked by an inadequate performance in her own department - “tries constantly to interfere with other departments and gain control of the central administration.” Personal experience suggests that while it may seem unlikely, in practice the articulate injelitant can indeed make his way up the corporate ladder. Indeed, the injelitant may have entered the organization at a high level!
Once at the helm, the injelitant never promotes or hires the best. Rather, she populates the organization with “sheep" and “yes men”. The effective follower - the one we should all want in our organizations - either leaves or becomes a survivor, playing the game behind enemy lines.
For Parkinson, the injelitant subtly reverses the rise of the competent. When two candidates (A&B) vie for an open position, the injelitant leader says, “A might be Clever, yes, but is he sound?”
“He dare not say, ‘Mr. A makes me feel small’,” so he says ‘Mr. B appears to me to have the better judgment.’”
I’ve heard the word “nuance” used in a similar way. A candidate can be seen more nuanced than another, and the supposedly more-nuanced one gets the job even though the supposedly less-nuanced candidate is vastly superior in experience and accomplishments. Parkinson said the word “judgment” as applied here signifies the opposite of intelligence, perhaps the same for “nuance”. (BTW, I think the word, "elegant" is an injelitant word. Next time you hear it, listen for how it is used.)
Pretty soon the organization is full of people who share the boss’s insecurity, so only inferior candidates are hired. You get the idea of how slowly but surely good people are forced out and replaced by also-rans.
The tertiary stage is the coma. “There is no spark of intelligence left in the organization. It may remain in a coma for 20 years.” The coma’s hallmarks range from smugness to apathy: apathy over productivity, surly attitudes, a deteriorating physical plant, and no innovation. (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!)
Parkinson offers hope. “Eventually intelligence may creep in: stealthily, concealed under a mask of imbecilic good humor” - the beloved fool. Then, when promoted, he tears off the mask and starts to do something!
Absent this turning-the-tables, Parkinson suggests the external introduction of a militantly intolerant boss. Her mantra: “The best is scarcely good enough” and “There is no excuse for anything”.
Ridicule and Castigation are also cures, but they have their limits. The organization may have an inch-thick hide and the daily kick-in-the-ass becomes a bore for the person doing the kicking.
If bad enough, Parkinson says the entire organization has to be buried. “No survivors can be tolerated. Even the equipment must burn along with the files….”
Beware the injelitant virus!

*Source: From the book, Parkinson’s Law and Other Studies in Administration. Chapter 8, “Injelititis or Palsied Paralysis” pp.100-113. 1957 (1973 edition.)

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