Building A Company Tribe
“In organizations, real power and energy is generated
through relationships. The patterns of relationships and
the capacity to form them are more important than tasks,
functions, roles, and positions.”
When people ask me what I do I have been known to facetiously say – I build cults, but I think that that particular description can be perceived pretty negatively so I have been thinking on a more appropriate way to describe it and I like the idea of building company tribes.
A tribe in the most common context is a group of people who have shared ancestry, but can also be a group who shares values, beliefs and customs.
I rather like this definition of a tribe; a group of people who share values, customs and beliefs and work together to optimize the collective good. The neat thing is this definition can be expanded to include your stakeholders including customers, shareholders, and even the community in addition to employees.
Anyone who is familiar with my body of work knows that I have a deep and abiding investment in two core beliefs-
- Building an organization based on commitment and shared values will always be more successful than building an organization using compliance as a base.
- We hire, manage, coach, and interact with whole people; not just their knowledge, skills and abilities.
As a human resources practitioner and C level executive I learned through experience that people join cultures and leave managers. I also learned that no organization will see greater success from their product brand than their employment brand over the long term.
We are seeing the results of poor employments brands every day.
Employee engagement continues to hover in the high 20s to low 30s where it has been for the last five years or so.
The economy is starting to improve and the repressed demand for more equitable wages and treatment is starting to surface in major ways. Almost fifty percent of workers in recent surveys reported that they were likely or very likely to pursue new employment in the next 12 to 18 months.
The Department of Labor estimates that employee turnover; both voluntary and involuntary, costs the U.S. economy $5 trillion annually in hard and soft costs.
The American Mental Health Association says we lose another $200 billion annually to the phenomenon of presenteeism, where people show up to work, but perform substantially below their capabilities because of job related stress, dissatisfaction, poor management and other related factors.
Our recent recession gave employers a bit of an edge by lowering employment opportunities and I believe moved back progress in the employment relationship, but now it is time for payback.
I don’t just want to dwell on the negative, there are substantial motivators for creating an engaged tribe!
- Hay Group studies show that high engagement can improve revenue growth by 250 % and reduce turnover by as much as 40%.
- 70% of organizations with high engagement exited the downtown with higher levels of employee motivation than pre-recession.
- 90% of the Fortune Magazine Worlds’ Most Admired Companies have developed and maintained an explicit employment brand. An employment brand is systemic. It permeates the entire organizational culture at every touch point from recruitment and selection to interactions with customers, community and other shareholders. It lives at the C-level, not in HR.
Your frontline employees are the organization to your customers. If they don’t feel the passion and the commitment they will not reflect it. Global research organization ISR’s Research Director, Patrick Kulesa, states it clearly:
Our research continues to show that a well substantiated relationship exists between employee engagement – the extent to which employees are committed, believe in the value of the company, feel pride in working for their employer, and are motivated to go the extra mile- and business results.
So how did we go wrong? I will give you my short answer-
- We have not captured the energy and commitment of the American worker. We have used technology and systems in many cases against rather than on behalf of people. In short we have disengaged them.
- Our management and leadership models do not appropriately value and reinforce the importance of relationships and people.
I remember entering the workforce and being surprised that we didn’t think that employees were very smart. We relied heavily on compliance based models rather than explaining our goals to them and enlisting their support.
We rarely involved them in decisions about how to do something. We didn’t explain systems like health care or materials management or in some cases even the legal environment. Managers managed and people did. I was pretty naïve and wondered why if we thought all these people were stupid, why did we hire them?
Let’s look at the curriculum of the average MBA program-
The amount of the curriculum that deals with communications, setting expectations, and skills like giving and receiving feedback constructively or coaching are dwarfed by financial modeling, economic models and related studies.
In a HBR (Harvard Business Review) article a well- known management consultant was recommending to business and organizational leaders that they distance themselves from engagement initiatives. His premise was that engagement as it is being marketed is largely about morale and employee fulfillment rather than performance.
While I don’t disagree that much of the language and programming around engagement fits his description discarding engagement is overly simplistic. Engagement is about alignment and should be tied to individual and organizational performance.
Although engagement will look different in different organizational cultures; there are several factors that will transcend organizational and culture boundaries- you will find them present in any engaged organization. Those elements include the following at minimum:
- A foundation of trust and mutual respect
- Clear expectations and feedback mechanisms at all levels of the organization
- A clear and compelling value proposition.
- An equitable and transparent system for delivering compensation.
- A competent leadership and management team who have the total skills portfolio to attract, retain, and reinforce the values of the organization
- Recognition and reinforcement of every employee’s responsibility to participate in the process actively rather than passively.
Over 30 years ago a gentleman named Roger Deprey created a model he called the Human Resources Pyramid®. It is composed of an employee’s ability to answer six questions in a particular order-
- What is my job?
- How am I doing?
- Does anyone really care?
- What is our function/mission/goal?
- How are we doing?
- How can I help?
Corporations and organizations spend an enormous amount of time and money talking to employees, shareholders and other stakeholders about mission, vision, culture, and values as abstract principles. Before employees can embrace your vision or mission, they need to understand where they personally fit in the organization and how you, as an executive, see them and their contributions.
You see, when you answer those six questions you have invited employees to join your tribe and they have accepted your invitation.
My template for creating your tribe is not complex, but it is not easy…
- Treat your employees with respect by providing clear expectations, meaningful feedback, and an opportunity to collaborate with you in achieving your goals and theirs.
- Treat them as intelligent adults by holding them accountable for performing their tasks independently and competently, given clear direction and guidance. Provide clear boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and performance, and enforce them consistently.
- Provide them with the big picture and context of how their jobs, skills, and activities fit into the larger purpose of the organization- answer their question “What is my job?”
- Provide a clear “line of sight” between their performance and their compensation and rewards. If it takes you longer than 20 minutes to explain the basic structure of how you make decisions about employee compensation, it is too complicated. If you are afraid to explain the targets you use and how you make decisions, your model is flawed. Remember that human nature is to distrust what we do not understand.
- Do not expect more “loyalty” than you are willing to provide. I define loyalty as a mutual agreement that, while someone is my employee, they commit themselves to being engaged 100% and fulfill their responsibilities with our mutual respect. If they need additional clarity or information, they make me aware of that, and if they have an issue, they allow me to address it. Envision loyalty as an agreement between adults: we will continue in our relationship as long as it is mutually beneficial to both parties.
I won’t mislead you. Making the commitment to build a tribe is hard work and a journey rather than an event. It has to be approached systemically, you can’t pick and choose the elements you want to work on and expect success.
On the other hand when you look at the impact on every key performance indicator from shareholder returns to reduced turnover and increased per capita productivity I think the ROI is there.
So in summary I leave you with this parting thought…
Companies have a hard time distinguishing between the costs of paying people and the value of investing in them. Thomas A Stewart
I rather think the numbers speak for themselves….