By: Mary Beth McEuen
In my last post, I shared that I’d like to explore the topic inspired by Abraham Maslow — that organizations, designed right, can be vehicles for human potential to be realized. Human potential can only be pursued in relationship with other people. We are biologically wired to be social and are shaped in significant ways by the people and cultures that we live and work in.
So, one of the biggest responsibilities of company leaders is to proactively and actively shape culture in such a way that people can thrive and the organization can succeed. Culture feels like an amorphous topic that is very difficult to get one’s arms around. It is helpful to have a framework, anchored in theories of human potential, to guide us. I am a fan of the work of Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey at Harvard along with Dave Loganauthor of Tribal Leadership, and other academics who study and publish in the space of how language, psychology and culture come together to shape people’s beliefs and behavior.
Dave Logan, along with co-authors, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright, capture five stages of cultural tribes that can be distinguished by their own way of speaking that is underpinned by their beliefs and norms. They make a key statement — As people see the world, so they behave. In other words, the core belief of a tribe drives how they make meaning in their brains and ultimately how they behave. So, what are the different ways in which cultures see the world?
Stage One: Core Belief – Life Sucks!
This is the stage of tribe is typically not found in business environments. People at this stage are despairingly hostile and they band together to get ahead in a violent and unfair world. You may find this stage of tribe in gangs and prisons.
Stage Two: Core Belief – My Life Sucks!
About 25 percent of workplace tribes are stage two. People in this stage are passively antagonistic; they cross their arms in judgement yet never really get interested enough to spark any passion. Their laughter is quietly sarcastic and resigned. Stage two talk sounds like, “we’ve tried this before and watched it fail.” The mood that results from stage two tribes is apathetic victims. You’ve experienced this if you walked in a meeting and presented a new idea with passion, only to get looks of passivity. You can observe this stage of tribe at some government offices where there seems to be no urgency or accountability to actually serve a customer.
Stage Three: Core Belief – I’m Great …. and You’re Not!
About 49 percent of workplace tribes are stage three. In stage three tribes, knowledge is power, so people hoard it — from client contacts to gossip about the company. People at stage three have to WIN … WIN …WIN and for them winning is personal. They’ll work many long hours to beat the competition. There is a tendency to be individualistic and see oneself as the hero of the win. Often it feels like a band of “lone warriors,” wanting help and support and being continually disappointed that others don’t have their ambition or skill. This leads to complaints like, “there just isn’t accountability around here!” People stay locked in stage three due to their addiction to the “hit” they get from winning, besting others, being the smartest and most successful.
Stage Four: Core Belief – We’re Great … and They’re Not!
About 22 percent of workplace tribes are fortunate enough to be here! If you work in one of these tribes, you are very fortunate and much more able to realize your potential! This is the level of tribe that will provide competitive advantage to organizations that desire and need to be nimble, accountable, dynamic, and innovative. The vibe in a stage four tribe is “tribal pride.” Stage four tribes always have an adversary that is another group of people or another company. The bigger the foe, the more powerful the tribe. At stage four, a common purpose and commitment to shared core values are the glue of accountability. In fact, the two most important aspects of stage four is: identifying and leveraging core values, and aligning to a noble cause. Everything the tribe does should be connected to values and a noble cause! Projects, activities, initiatives, and processes should be carefully designed to be enable values to be lived everyday and a noble cause to be passionately pursued. Values are not something hanging on plaques on walls, rather it is at the moment that leaders begin talking about everyone’s values, as opposed to individuals discussing “my values,” that tribal magic happens. Tribal leaders look for ways to express the group’s values and to make tangible the positive aspects of living the values everyday. Especially when the going gets tough, decisions are made to demonstrate that values trump everything else. Yet, values are not enough. While values are the fuel of the tribe, a noble cause is the direction the tribe is heading. A noble cause captures the tribe’s ultimate aspiration and causes people to reach to achieve what might seem impossible. A noble cause leads to people “aligning” and being “accountable” to something really great.
Stage Five: Core Belief – Life is Great!
Less than 2 percent of workplaces operate at stage five. The language of stage five revolves around infinite potential and how the group is going to make history — not beat a competitor, but because doing so will make a global impact. The group’s mood is “innocent wonderment,” with people in competition with what’s possible, not with another tribe. Teams at stage five can produce miraculous innovations. After short bursts of activity, stage five teams recede to stage four to regroup and attend to infrastructure issues before possibly returning to stage five. Creating challenge teams that operate at stage five is an excellent way to not only drive powerful innovations, but also begin the shift of culture to stage five.
If we are serious-minded about organizations being vehicles for human potential, culture must be addressed. Culture matters! Having a noble cause and shared values are the foundation for stage four cultures. And, increasingly, most businesses will be looking to create stage four cultures in order to create the innovation and nimbleness needed to be successful in today’s rapidly changing business environment. So, where is your culture? Where does it need to be?