Aging systems: The illusion of stability and how it affects organizations

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Image by owada via Flickr

In a recent blog article in Fast Company, Rob Salkowitz discuss China’s awaiting demographic challenge pertinent to its economic sustainability. China’s one child family policy creating the 4-2-1 problem: 4 grandparents, 2 parents, and 1 children. If this pattern persists, China’s workforce will have more elderly and less youth.

This is not an unprecedented phenomenon. Europe and Japan already face this challenge since a decade ago. In Asia, affluent countries such as Singapore is also facing similar challenge. It seems that there is tendency in most wealth and prosperous countries to have fewer children. China, now the world’s second largest economy, is not an exception. The increasing life expectation rate combine with the tendency of marriage delay, or child-less marriage; may contribute to this upside-down workforce pyramid.

What about organizations? I’ve seen similar situation where organizations get into an aging process, just based on the reality that people inside are them are aging. OK, what’s wrong with that? Aging is inevitable, isn’t it?

Yes, people are aging. People eventually die. Organizations, as well as societies and nations, are not the same. They can sustain through generations. Organizations are place where people come and go. But, I’ve met organizations who are aging. They are organizations with excessive belief toward stability and loyalty. As it may sounds good, such belief can endanger the very existence of the organization itself.

Why? Here’s what I’ve learned. First, most of this aging phenomenon was found in organizations with established system, where things seems work just fine for years, and people were ‘loyalists’ to the organizations for quite a long time. Second, they see this ‘stability’ is the most important thing to sustain. I see these two as the signal from the grave. Why? Within these two assumptions, the organization system tend not to hire new people, and rely more on ‘the old loyalists’ and ‘business as usual’ principle.

Such predicament can be lethal, as organization may drowned into the illusion of invulnerability. This is a result of a belief that everything has gone just well for years anyway, and change in renewal is not necessary. The system is trapped in contentment. This may increase its propensity to reject ‘fresh blood’ (such as new ideas and ways of working brought in by new people). The system is not going through a renewal cycle; it’s aging along with the aging people and ideas in it. Contentment, therefore, is what makes the system aging.

As of a nation is aging because it has lesser new generations of workforce, organization is aging by its contentment with ‘stability and loyalty’ which is neglecting the necessity of getting new people. For such organization, a sustainable future is somewhat obscure to define. The system is aging, thanks to the illusion of sustainability.

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6 responses to “Aging systems: The illusion of stability and how it affects organizations

  1. Organisasi menjadi tua karena ada dominasi status quo. Itu yang kita alami bersama di WM. Organisasi semacam itu akan menjadi bebal, tidak berinovasi, takut bereksperimen dengan hal-hal baru, main aman, dan hancur pada akhirnya. Regenerasi itu mutlak dalam organisasi. Di dalam proses regenerasi terjadi pewarisan nilai-nilai. Nilai-nilai tersebut kemudian ditafsirkan untuk menyesuaikan dengan konteks baru yang terus berubah. Hanya dengan begitu organisasi bisa bertahan di dalam waktu.

    • Saya sepenuhnya sepakat. Sayangnya, banyak orang menganggap remeh hal ini.

      Kadang saya berpikir, jangan-jangan memang kebanyakan orang tidak menganggap penting keberlanjutan dan regenerasi, karena mereka sangat ‘imani’; dalam artian bahwa bagi mereka yang penting melakukan apa yang mereka yakini terbaik sebelum mereka mati. sesudah itu kan tinggal meraih surga : ) Pola pikir macam ini kadang saya temui di beberapa orang, dan akibatnya mereka melihat segalanya dengan egosentris dan bukan sosiosentris. Kalau sudah demikian, ya regenerasi dan keberlanjutan tidak ada relevansinya bagi mereka.

      • yah memang.. dalam kasus-kasus seperti itu, regenerasi kadang terjadi secara tidak terprogram. Akibatnya bisa dua. Pertama, organisasi tersebut berubah wajah, dan menjadi sama sekali lain dari reason of existence pendirian organisasi tersebut. Kedua, organisasi tersebut perlahan hancur ditelan waktu dan situasi. Menurut saya regenerasi harus menjadi program organisasi yang direncanakan secara sistematis dan tepat. Fokus regenerasi tetap pada pemberdayaan manusia sebagai modal utama organisasi, dan bukan pada aset-aset lainnya, seperti tanah, gedung, dan sebagainya. Aset material akan mati tanpa ada roh manusia yang menghidupinya. Namun sebaliknya manusia akan menjiwai segala yang ada, sehingga materi akan terkumpul di dalam proses. Kuncinya adalah imperatif kategoris kedua Kant: manusia harus menjadi tujuan pada dirinya sendiri, dan bukan semata alat. Regenerasi yang fokus dan sistematis pada pemberdayaan manusia di dalam organisasi adalah kunci keberlangsungan organisasi tersebut. Semuanya akan ditambahkan ke dalam proses.

  2. ya.. saya baru Kant.. jadi masih terngiang2.. hehehe… tapi organisasi emang masalah pelik. Sulit sekali menemukan cara untuk memotivasi orang yang tidak punya motivasi, atau yang motivasinya tidak sejalan dengan visi organisasi…. terutama ketika kita sendiri sudah antipati terhadap mereka…. ini yang sering saya alami… organisasi mati bahkan sebelum menjadi berarti…;(

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