Organizational implosion--a threat to long-term viability.

Author:Pryor, Mildred Golden


When a building implodes, it is demolished from within so that there is an inward collapse. It is destroyed by internally-placed explosive charges that weaken the structural capability of the building. A building implosion occurs in a controlled fashion as a result of planned explosive charges. Stakeholders know when, how, and why the building will implode. When an organization implodes, many of the stakeholders may initially be surprised. However, upon review of the organization in the period leading up to the implosion, it would be evident that there were many demolition charges in place throughout the organization. Perhaps some of these seeds of destruction could exist in the short term. However, in the long term, demolition charges would eventually cause the organization to implode. This article discusses the various types of organizational issues that can function as demolition charges and suggests ways to eradicate them or at least minimize their impact.


This article identifies organizational implosion as the result of seeds of destruction which can function as demolition charges and cause an organization to implode (i.e., collapse inward).

These demolition charges may have been deliberately set, or they may be the result of various inadvertent failures such as systemic problems, malfunction or misalignment of organizational elements, or even lack of timely responses. Bozeman (2013) offers the following definition of organizational implosion: "cases in which organizational members, acting in their official capacities, play a significant role in the havoc wreaked on their organization" (p. 119). He further clarifies organizational implosion as highly disruptive events caused in significant part by organizational members, generally in response to external constraints emanating from the organization's environment and having ongoing extremely negative consequences for the organization and its stakeholders (Bozeman, 2013, p. 125). We take issue with the first definition in that acting in an official capacity is not a requirement for organizational members to play a role in organizational implosion. We also take issue with the latter definition in terms of the requirement of external constraints. While we surmise that implosions can be caused by a variety of organizational elements, we concur that people are the active ingredient that often triggers an implosion. Therefore, we offer leadership, management, work environment, and other potential causes of organizational implosion. Finally, we provide recommendations that will help eliminate the demolition charges when possible and otherwise to minimize their impact.


Organizations are systems, holistic entities which exist to serve specific purposes. The strategic direction and execution are established by people who serve as organizational leaders and managers. However, these same leaders and managers may also put in place (or fail to put in place) items required by the organization for long term success and survival. Allio (2007) suggests that there are bad leaders and that there are strategic and tactical actions that must be taken if they are to improve or be eliminated. He mentions as malefactors Lay and Skilling (Enron), Kozlowski (Tyco), and Ebbers (WorldCom), and he suggests that "Good leaders find strategies that do right by all the stakeholders" (Allio, 2007, p. 12). Sometimes the problem is vision vacuity where the person is focused on day-to-day activities, but has limited or no capability and/or desire to be a visionary. When there is a vacuum in terms of where the organization will be in the future, this nothingness negatively impacts systems and subsystems from the perspective of Purpose, People, Principles, Processes, and Performance as described by Pryor, White and Toombs (1998, 2007) as elements of the 5P's Strategic Leadership Model. See Figure 1.

Gap between Expectations and Realities (p. 12)

Jackson and Finkelstein (2005) caution that it is possible that positive financial indicators can serve as camouflage, masking other indicators such as high levels of employee turnover, and a culture of demoralization and discouragement, as well as internal conflicts. They give examples, one of which is "Morgan Stanley (which) is not the first - nor likely will it be the last - highly successful organization that sowed the seeds of its own demise" (p. 1). Other examples offered by Jackson and Finkelstein (2005) are "MassMutual, WorldCom, and Enron" (p. 1).

We suggest that leaders and managers must focus on a variety of key performance indicators that can serve as warning signals. In so doing, they can purge any charges that may have been deliberately or inadvertently set that might contribute to organizational implosion. Those indicators or measurements should be established and utilized as an integral part of the execution of strategic and tactical plans.

Execution Fantasies

Pryor, Anderson, Toombs and Humphreys (2007) assert "whereas strategy formation has received robust examination in the literature, explicit guidance toward strategy implementation has been meager: (p. 3). As a result, it is not surprising that strategy execution is many times a dismal failure even though the strategic plans are impressive. Some leaders involve their people in developing impressive strategic plans. If executed properly, these strategic plans would make their organizations competitive and help ensure their long-term survival. However, execution requires more than simply communicating the elements of a strategic plan throughout an organization (Beer and Eisenstat, 2000). Otherwise, we suggest that strategic plans will become what we have entitled execution fantasies. These scenarios are where leaders talk about the strategies. However, they do not put in place the items necessary for the strategies to be implemented, i.e., tactics, action plans, and accountability systems that would ensure strategy implementation.

Alignment Disruptions

As mentioned previously, organizations are systems that have a variety of elements or subsystems that must be aligned in order for them to function successfully. The 5P's Strategic Leadership Model, Figure 1 (Pryor & White, 1996; Pryor, et al, 1998 and 2007) highlights those elements as follows:

* Purpose includes various strategic intention ingredients such as mission, vision, goals, and strategies.

* Principles include core values and operating guidelines.

* Processes are organizational structures, systems, and procedures as well as the infrastructure and rules that support them.

* People, the only active ingredient in the 5P's Strategic Leadership Model.

They are the individuals and teams who own the processes and do the work.

* Performance includes measurements and key performance indicators as well as performance results.

Lack of alignment among the 5Ps can cause organizational implosions, trigger external disruptions and failures, and even result in human tragedies and deaths. Examples where strategic and tactical plans were either nonexistent or not well executed and/or where the 5P's were not aligned are Bengazi (Griffin & Housley, 2012) and Fast and Furious (Attkisson, 2011). In both cases, there were significant leadership and process issues which...

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