Shaken, but Alive: Organizational Behavior in the Wake of Catastrophic Events

Powell, Thomas C (1991) Shaken, but Alive: Organizational Behavior in the Wake of Catastrophic Events. Organization and Environment, 5 (4). pp. 271-291.


When faced with survival-threatening catastrophic events, organizations are often advised to adopt radical, frame-breaking changes. However, evidence suggests threatened organizations tend to do exactly the reverse: they are rigid and detached, relying on existing strategies, routines and resources to pull them through, and then — if they survive — coping with problems once the threat has passed. This article explores the parallels between organizational crisis behavior and individual behavior in the wake of traumatic events, as described in the clinical theory of "post-traumatic stress disorder" (PTSD). Using Man ville Corporation's asbestos crisis to illustrate the theory, it is proposed that environmental catastrophes produce trauma by contradicting and invalidating strongly held organizational paradigms, or "world views". Although radical changes may be needed to rebuild organizational world views, trauma-related rigidity and detachment preclude such changes, making survival doubly problematic. As an alternative to radical change, the article proposes "behavioral self-blame" as a realistic intermediate solution for threatened organizations, and discusses the implications of this solution for researchers, practitioners and organizational change-agents.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Organizational Behavior; Disasters
Subject(s): Strategy; Entrepreneurship & Global business
Date Deposited: 19 Jan 2012 21:07
Last Modified: 22 Oct 2018 10:42
Funders: N/A

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