Managerial Autism: Threat-Rigidity and Rigidity's Threat
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The global financial crisis had a sharply asymmetrical impact on the Australian economy, with a minority of firms growing rapidly during 2005-2010. These gazelle firms experienced internal stress - often positive stress or eustress - parallel to macroeconomic shocks, and these internal stresses were largely independent of external factors. Staw, Sandelands and Dutton's heavily cited threat-rigidity theory ('Threat rigidity effects in organizational behavior: a multilevel analysis', Administrative Science Quarterly, 26, pp. 501-552, 1981) suggests that, when exposed to threat, either internal or external, decision-makers respond conservatively, adhering to previously learned solutions rather than responding innovatively. This study examines five young gazelle firms, established just prior to the economic downturn. It explores management responses to internal and external threats and suggests that rigidity plays a role as an independent variable as well as a consequence of crisis. Drawing on the literature on resilience of individuals in the face of trauma, the study finds that autistic managerial response in approaches to performance management in emerging firms during a crisis is likely to produce additional stress. The paper suggests an organizational model for response to stressors based on Lazarus and Folkman's cognitive appraisal model (Stress, Appraisal, and Coping. Berlin: Springer, 1984).
British Journal of Management
Human Resources Management