Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The ADHD Organization (Part One)

Just what HR needs more anachronisms that make no sense: OADHD (or Organizational ADHD).  In my next pair of blog posts I am going to discuss ADHD and organizations.

As a person who is living with ADHD, I found Daniel Goleman’s recent post on the ADHD organization most interesting.  I responded with a comment that he missed the point and the characteristics he attributed to the ADHD organization do not reflect the attributes of ADHD.  I was surprised by the number of likes and comments on my comment, almost unanimously agreeing that he missed the concept al together. But I do agree the headline grabbed you in to read the post. 

In fact it is best described by Dr. Joseph Biederman a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and chief of pediatric psychopharmacology at Massachusetts General Hospital: "Many people don't know they have this. Many people get fired because of this, It's characterized by inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity," he said. "They have trouble with time management, completing tasks, paying attention. They may be late for work, and they are not always prepared." He adds: “Not everyone who exhibits these symptoms has ADHD”.

What is good to know that there is a chemical reason for this problem; in reality it is a neurobiological disorder, and there is help. But is there help for the organization that has the attributes of ADHD?

Having come to the realization that I have ADHD later in life, I began to attempt to deal with it over the past few years.  I was intrigued with the concept.  After all, many say organizations are like families, dysfunctional.  Since many organizations have employees and often leaders, who have, knowingly or not, ADD and ADHD, why not have an ADD/ADHD organization?  It got me thinking what would be an organization that appeared to demonstrate ADD/ADHD. 

To oversimplify, the condition affects brain functioning and causes problems with attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity, and at times frustration and inability to prioritize and a tendency to procrastinate. Further the person with ADHD will have trouble concentrating, get impatient and have outbursts, forget things (not only where they placed their keys) or feel distracted.
As a result it is associated with missed deadlines and lots of excuse rationalizing to justify the missed deadline. It also is associated with jumping from one activity to another.  Those with ADHD often change jobs frequently or simply have problems with reaching their full potential at work.  They often work extremely hard but somehow the intention is not attained.

The good news for an individual is that with a combination of therapy and medications the person with ADHD can perform to their potential and appear to the rest of the world as if they don’t have it.  One word of advice, medication alone is not enough. As my psychologist once commented it is like being on a journey and meds only get you 75% of the way there. In fact a new brand of coaches have emerged for business leaders, those who specialize in coaching people with ADHD.

People with ADHD are not all alike, have the same interests, talents or background.  Similarly ADHD organizations can be in any industry sector or government agency.  While it is not unusually for those with ADHD to bore easily, a job requiring repetitive, detail-oriented work would be a disaster. 

For those in Ontario, the new classifications protect those with ADHD.  HR professionals are supposed to help affected employees by sponsoring educational events to raise awareness about the under diagnosed and poorly understood disorder. This is to help managers deal with workers who have ADD/ADHD as well as the employee. But what if you are an employee working in an ADHD/ADD organization. What help do you have, what recourse do you have?  We’ll discuss that next.


  1. Time management and structure are my biggest challenges. I have multiple long term projects that I need to add structure to, break them down into smaller projects, and have accountability for them, or I let them lag. Smaller things always come up with more proximal deadlines, reviews, technical asisstance, and the long-term projects lag.

    I too was diagnosed late in life. As a top student with a masters degree, I never had problems in highly structured school environments. I've also read ADD can manifest differently in women compared with men. I never thought I had it because I was successful in school, unlike my brother with ADHD. But I do not have the hyperactivity as much as hyperfocus and attending to the wrong things (i.e., things that are more fun and not boring). Boring, repetitive tasks are the worst for me, and as a bureaucrat, that is the kiss of death.

    So I welcome these conversations of the individual challenges. Relating to the organizational problems can be a challenge because we all have different manifestations of this "disorder", which really just means our brains are all wired differently, but share some particular characteristics. There are probably many different ways that organisations mirror ADD/ADHD symptoms, and they are all poignant observations of ways they could function better.

    1. On an individual basis ADD and ADHD is something that causes frustration for one's self and those closest to those who have ADD/ADHD. It can become debilitating if it becomes and excuse or rational why we don't succeed. But looking at it from the perspective of an organization. First, organizations are made up of people and if those who lead have it then it is reflected in their actions which impact the organization or at least those they lead. So if you think your organization has Organizational ADHD (OADHDD) then it might well be because those who founded the organization have or had it. The issues are manifest in many ways and will be addressed in part two of this blog.

      If the OADHD causes dysfunction in a company, in my experience, it has manifested in one or more ways which will be in the next blog. So stay tuned.

      Nicole thank for sharing. ADD/ADHD is hereditary, so the question is which of your parents and or grandparents had it. Similarly in organizations it could well be 'inherited' to the corporate DNA rooted in the attributes of one or more of the founders.


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