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Marketplace insights

In a business it is usually not too difficult to tell when you are in trouble; you fail to make a profit, your customers are disappearing and you and your employees are not able to function productively, but what about your department or nonprofit organization? How can you tell if it is at risk of failure before it is too late? How do you know when it is time to make drastic changes?

Many Native organizations experience terminal problems, but fail to recognize the warning signs. Challenges that might exist in the delivery of client services, political and financial issues can snowball into problems that can eventually lead to an organization’s downfall. Even the most successful organization and the most profitable business can fail. Knowing what to look for in a problem organization at the onset is the key.

Some managers, business owners or program directors may retreat into denial mode. Like a dysfunctional family, they do not want to admit when there is a problem. This will create a host of symptoms as members of an organization attempt to deal with the problem issues. Employees are often the first to react, maybe through behavior, loss of interest, change in work morale, turnover in job positions. Many Native workers will leave a problem business or organization, rather than face conflict, or they may withdraw into their private work world. Loss of team or group continuity in a Native organization is one important sign.

The quality of product or service delivery may also suffer in a troubled business or organization. Your client base may begin to subside, as they find alternative methods of services. Or worse, they may rebel, creating a negative political campaign against an organization.

This is a particularly popular strategy in many Native tribal communities, since members and political leadership are so closely entwined. Organizations may find themselves being summoned to tribal council to answer to their problems and risk losing important funding sources. Businesses may face the loss of tribal government or community members as customers, causing a decrease in business revenue.

Communication breakdown is another sign in a problem organization. Employees and management will cease to provide important messages to one another. This may be due to confusion, failure to want to deal with difficult issues, or just plain defiance on their behalf. This is one way people show discontent, they withdraw and fail to communicate within their organization. A breakdown in a business or organizational system will include the following: Seize in standard workplace communication, only engaging in one-way communication from the top down with no feedback, non-verbal communication that represents an employee’s negative disposition with workplace issues.

Management overusing formal policy to address workplace issues, documenting poor behavior, excessive warnings and memos, or employees sending negative messages; this has become prevalent in modern businesses and organizations that use e-mail to communicate.

There are many things we need to be aware of. It is important to tell early on when your business or organization is “on the rocks.” The fist step is to face that there are problems. You are then able to begin a process for effectively addressing these issues and bring your business or organization back from the brink of failure. Develop a strategy to repair problem issues, seek outside support if necessary, and most importantly, work as a team to get your organization back under control. Steps you take to intervene will help not only your professional reputation, but more importantly the Native tribes and communities that rely so heavily on productive organizations to meet their service needs.

Lucinda Hughes-Juan has many years of teaching and training in the fields of business and management, with a focus on the cultural dynamics in Native businesses and organizations. She is an enrolled member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She holds an MBA in global management, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in business and organizational management. E-mail her at