We have all come across them in our careers: managers or even whole organizations that keep their heads in the proverbial sand, refusing to acknowledge what is all around them.

Whether it is something subtle like a leader who avoids conflict or more obvious, like an organization that does not have a handbook, the ostrich syndrome can affect everything from attendance to office culture. As such, it is more important than ever for leaders to identify and stop ostrich-style management.

Who’s on first?

This style of management often thrives within organizations that are either very new or very established. On the one hand, new organizations like startups often move fast, are hyper-focused on a specific goal and espouse the belief they do not have the time or need to follow basic processes.

This could include anything from professional offer letters and handbooks to addressing performance management or employee relations issues. In such cases, ostrich-style management can create a culture that allows for inconsistent or unfair treatment of staff, festering of inter-employee tensions, and lack of regulatory compliance.

On the flip side, established organizations often embrace ostrich-style management because of the very nature of their long existence. In other words, this is how they have always done it, and everything has turned out fine so far. So why change?

These organizations can experience bottlenecks in processes because a limited number of employees hold most of the institutional knowledge. They may also have systems in place, but they are old and duct-taped together, and because of a lack of updates, many lack compliance with basic employment law.

Stop…or I’ll say stop again

Identifying ostrich-style management is often much easier than stopping it. In many cases, identifying it can cause tension because it puts the status quo at risk and the organization may not have the time nor the inclination to change. However, change is necessary, and the culture will only become more fraught with problems the longer these issues are ignored.

Like the massive differences between the two types of organizations within which ostrich-style managers thrive, there are two very different ways to address the issue. The first is a total overhaul of the organization, while the second is more of a gradual, pick-your-battles approach.

Implementing a total overhaul of an organization is a specialty and requires resources, a concerted effort and good leaders. Without any one of those, it will not work.

As such, most leaders take the chip-chip-chisel-chisel approach. To do this successful requires a lot of patience, a solid understanding of the big picture, and knowing how to prioritize the infrastructure changes.

In both cases, it is incumbent upon leaders to embrace the change as positive and necessary and avoid blaming it on external forces. By owning the change, leaders are in a better position to retain institutional knowledge, respect veteran and expert staff, and increase staff buy-in.

The bottom line is, across every industry, the current pace of change in what we do and how we do it is not going to slow down: leaders must identify ostrich-style management and come up with a sustainable way to incorporate change into management, systems and strategy.