Lucifer Effect in Organization


In 1971, an experiment was conducted at Stanford University under the direction of Dr. Philip Zimbardo to study human behavior under different conditions and circumstances. This experiment explored the fundamental question of human nature that how ordinary and even good human beings become badly behaved or even evil. When a group of people in this experiment were subjected to the conditions of power and superiority over another group, they experienced negative behavioral changes and even sadistic, so that the experiment was stopped after six days. Zimbardo called this work the Lucifer effect or the evil effect.

Stanford Prison Experiment (Image: Stanford Historical Photograph Collection)

Lucifer’s effect can be extended to organization and organizational behavior. After studying the relationships of people within the organization, one can realize the amazing effects of situations on people’s actions and reactions. In other words, people express different behaviors and approaches in different situations and different levels of power. The most important situations in which the Lucifer effect “may” occur in organizations are:

1- Behavior of people towards the other people in the organization after promoting their organizational position or receiving rewards and vice versa.

1–1- A person, after being promoted, behaves superiorly to other people with whom he has been in the same level of organizational position before.

1–2- A person will feel like jealousy towards the person or people with whom he has been in a same level of organizational position in the past and is now promoted, and he will try to destroy them.

2- The behavior of old people in the organization towards new people and vice versa.

2–1- Old people will have power-seeking behavior towards new people in the organization. They do their best to prevent the growth and progress of new people in the organization so that their position of power is not harmed; in many organizations, this is why we see that old people refuse to transfer knowledge and experience and even current information of the organization to new people.

2–2- After joining the organization, new people unfairly criticize and destroy the past and current work of older or former people in order to gain their position and power in the organization.

In all of the above mentioned situations, the atmosphere of organization is ready for the negative and island team building. Improving the situation in island organizations is too difficult that it may take years of energy and time from managers and leaders; and perhaps the organization’s top executives may join the islands themselves.

Certainly, as stated at the beginning, these conditions may occur, in other words, there is a possibility of these behaviors, but not necessarily people under the above conditions are affected by Lucifer effect, and the occurrence of these behaviors depends on many factors that can be explained from two perspectives of internal and external factors. The internal factor of a person is his personality and behavioral characteristics; In other words, a set of personal reactions to external actions. The external factor is the set of rules, relationships, norms, and culture that govern the organization.

Like other psychological issues, there is definitely no immediate cure to remove Lucifer’s effects in the organization, and the best way to deal with it is to prevent it. This prevention should be done by controlling the said internal and external factors. The following solutions will be very helpful in preventing the Lucifer effect in the organization:

1- Establishing performance evaluation system in the organization; at first the key performance indicators (KPIs) as well as the critical success factors (CSFs) should be identified and explained to the members of the organization by units and organizational levels. Then, at specified intervals, the mentioned cases are evaluated and the results are continuously monitored in the form of personal and interpersonal analogy. Personal analogy means comparing the results of each person with himself and interpersonal analogy means comparing the results of people at the same level and unit with each other in performance evaluation time periods. Consequently the members of the organization become aware that all their actions, both positive and negative, are monitored by the organization.

2- Setting specific rules for job promotion and rewards in the organization and management adherence to them; so that the people of the organization will be sure that if they try more, they will be promoted, in this situation when a colleague is promoted, no negative feeling will be created in the other person and they know it as the result of more efforts of their colleague and it causes their motivation to gain such achievements and rewards will also be increased.

3- Adherence of all members of the organization to the rules instead of relationships and turning it into a permanent and sustainable culture in the organization; sustainable organizational culture always starts with the leader of the organization and is transferred to lower levels. When everyone believes that there is meritocracy system in organization, they will not make the perceptual errors that cause Lucifer effect.

4- Determining a specific job description for each organizational position and specifying the duties, responsibilities and especially the scope of the employees’ relationship with other people in the organization. In many organizations, when these subjects are not specified and clarified they leads to the most intense conflicts between persons, which will reduce synergy and effective and positive team building in the organization.

5- Holding farewell and introduction meetings in the organization; introduction meeting helps to establish a basic understanding between the new person and other people in the organization. Also, the farewell of people from the organization along with honoring, reminds the new and old members that the performance of all people should be constructively criticized during their presence and with their departure from the organization, others should only continue their positive performance and correct their negative ones.

6- Organizing professional and specialized meetings with the presence of new and old people of the organization; in such meetings, new and old people will get to know each other’s thoughts and senior managers should play a leading role in exchanging views and opinions and resolving issues, so that disagreements take on a process identity rather than a personal one from the outset. In such an organization, conflict management is best managed by the individuals themselves.

7- Holding entertainment ceremonies inside or outside the organization with the presence of new and old people and playing team games; this is an effective exercise for teaching positive team building in the organization. Also, the relationship between the people of the organization in a friendly atmosphere creates a sense of commitment between them. In other words, in these situations, with the suppression of Lucifer effect, common affiliations are created in the members of the organization, and everyone finds themselves in a ship that must help each other to move it towards common goals.

8- Teaching the member of the organization to recognize the perceptual errors; when one’s perception does not correspond to reality, we say that one has made a mistake in perception. One of the causes of appearance of the Lucifer effect in humans is their perceptual errors. For this reason, when members of the organization are not able to recognize these errors, they subconsciously will be affected by Lucifer effect and behave completely destructive. But by teaching perceptual errors to human resources and methods of recognizing them, we strengthen the skill of interpreting emotions in the members of the organization, which itself can reduce the likelihood of Lucifer effect in the organization.

9- Presence of organizational (industrial) psychology consultant; an organization that has such consultant is like a family that always has a doctor with family members. The presence of such a person in the organization can be helpful in both early identifying the root causes of the Lucifer effect in the organization and ultimately preventing them, and also providing early treatment for those who suffer from it. What is obvious is that human behavior is always on the edge of good and evil, and its relativity depends on the circumstances. In an organization, the set of organizational behaviors will affect the performance of individuals, units and ultimately the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization’s activities. The most important complication of Lucifer’s effect in the organization is the occurrence of destructive organizational behaviors that cause the inability of people to communicate effectively and build positive team with each other and even the failure of previously successful teams. Lucifer effect should be investigated as one of the important issues in organizational behavior and decision makers should use all the necessary tools to control this effect in the organization.




Entrepreneur | Management Consultant | CEO at NikKhah Group

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Amir NikKhah

Amir NikKhah

Entrepreneur | Management Consultant | CEO at NikKhah Group

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