The shadow of the enterprise

16-50pcThe “shadow” [1] is a concept that has been introduced by Carl Gustav Jung, the father of analytical psychology. To put it simply it is not something negative, it is all that is unconscious in an individual and that drives a substantial part of his actions … This notion of “shadow” is also at work at the scale of the enterprise.

Every group of humans is governed by conscious rules: the law, traffic rules, labour code, the code of conduct of the company he/she is working for, etc. But also by implicit or unconscious rules. The successful integration of an individual in a group, and consequently a company, is also conditioned by the adherence to these implicit rules and functioning modes.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to accept that persons and companies can be partially driven by unconscious things … But what are those things?

Let’s take the (real) example of an organisation where implicitly:

  • The respect of the hierarchy was exacerbated
  • Human resources had a paternalistic approach
  • Opposition of ideas (constructive exchange of ideas to be opposed to confrontation) was taboo
  • Going along was primordial whatever the implications

The associated values/beliefs were in this case:

  • Opposition of ideas = conflict
  • Opposition of ideas = disrespect of the hierarchy
  • Opposition of ideas = no team spirit
  • Going along = survival
  • Employee = child

The long term consequences were:

  • Restrained creativity
  • The loss of employees’ will and capacity to react
  • The loss of valuable collaborators
  • A decrease of work quality
  • An inability to tackle the company new challenges
  • An inability to address problems engaging up to the survival of the company
  • Loss of market shares

Of course the shadow is not the sole responsible of all that, but it in this case it showed to be a predominant parameter. The shadow is even stronger when the rules and functioning modes are implicit, the gap between the reality and the perception of how the company functions is even bigger.

The company then functions on two levels, official and informal (implicit or unconscious). Minimizing the distance between these two levels is crucial for the overall enterprise’s efficiency. Due to the unconscious nature of the shadow, this can only be achieved via an external and independent contribution; through the observation of the dynamic of the company, its methods, processes and structure and more importantly its human aspects and culture.


[1] shadow, wikipedia


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