In Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving
Organization, authors David C. Logan and John King draw from
several decades of consulting experience to examine the corporate
cultures at a number of leading companies, including Amgen, Intel,
American Express, and Prudential. What makes these companies so
successful? Tribes - the groups that naturally form within the
company - are the secret to lasting success, the authors say. Birds
flock, fish school, and people "tribe." The authors learned that
what separates average tribes from those that excel is culture, and
they contend that tribal culture exists in stages, on a scale of 1
to 5, going from undermining to history-making.
In your book you comment, "Roughly 75 percent of tribes are
stuck at the stage of My life sucks or I'm great, but you're
not ." Do most tribes slow or impede their leader's
forward movement by default? If the rest of the culture is not
where you are, for example, is one of your stabilizing anchor
David Logan (DL): Yes. That is exactly the point
that really got me started on this journey. Why, when you go into
some environments where leaders seem to do everything wrong, does
it still work, get results? It's because if you go into a Stage 4
tribe, if you get the most bumbling leader and put them into that
group, the group is going to compensate for what the leader does.
As in your example, if you have a group that is largely composed of
Stage 2 or 3 and the leader is talking about infinite potential and
"Let's change the world," nobody can hear that. No one can
understand what they are saying.
John King (JK): I'd like to offer another example
from another world. I grew up and came of age in the world of
entertainment. There is a term, when you are a performer, called a
tough room. A tough room happens when an entertainer goes on stage
and they can't find someone to connect with in the audience.
Connecting to just one audience member is not enough. If you can
get two to connect with in the audience, then you can actually play
your act. But if you don't have at least two you've connected with,
you have got a tough room.
Are some companies tough rooms?
JK: Yes. Some companies are indeed tough rooms. A
tough room company would be one with an operating state or their
center of gravity somewhere around 2.2, 2.3, or 2.5.
In your book you state, "Each person in a tribe is on
journey through the stages, and the tribe makes that journey long
or short. The job of the tribal leader is to expedite the journey
for each person, so that a new critical mass forms at Stage 4.
Without any external coaching, people advance through stages very
slowly." How slowly?
DL: People do move through the stages as
individuals, but remember, a generation may pass before people get
very far. Most of us are going to get to high Stage 3, and that is
about the extent of it.
Why is this journey so difficult to
JK: People advance through stages slowly because
our educational systems are more focused on training than
education. The design of our very first and lowest level of
education, kindergarten, involves learning by rote memorization.
The purpose of training is to enable the person to use routines and
practices that produce results. Most of our educational systems are
designed this way. This is very good when you don't want workers
thinking for themselves but rather automatically going into action,
say in the military, police, or firefighting.
The next level up in the hierarchy of learning is called coaching.
Coaching has a different design from training. Coaching encourages
you to alter your routines, your practices. We all know that if we
alter our practices then our routine will start to fail, results
are going to go down. So, many people resist coaching because it
will involve altering the practices that are already successful.
Now, a level above that - and a really good coach goes to here - is
a level called inquiry. The design of an inquiry is for you to have
an Aha, a Duh, or a Wow reaction, and for you to derive a
principle. When you derive a principle, that insight allows you to
coach yourself to alter your practices, affect your training, and
impact your routines and enhance your results.
How much work would the average company have to do to
upgrade their company culture and achieve your ideal range, where
the real bottom-line payoff is achieved?
DL: To answer this question, let's first look at
how one typically changes a large organization - say a company of
10,000 people or more. Current best practice indicates that
businesses manage change by creating strategic plans, implementing
policies, delivering workshops, investing in training and
development, firing the low performers and rehiring, or merging in
search of synergy. Unfortunately, none of these actions affects the
basic, underlying building block of organizations - tribes. If you
really wanted to change a large company, you would focus on
changing one tribe at a time. There is no magic bullet.
Fortunately, one tribe can be changed in a very short order of
time. First of all, you have to show them what the system is, what
the different culture stages are. You want to get them to assess
where they are. You want to get other tribes to assess where they
are, almost like a 360-degree feedback survey, but not on the
person; on the tribe.
After tribes assess where they are developmentally and there
is some basic consensus, the question becomes, "What do you want to
do about it?" If the answer to that question is that they don't
want to change, there is really nothing you can do. If one tribe is
invested in the status quo and doesn't want to change, then move on
to the next tribe. Most tribes, however, will want to try
something. Taking some action improves their job security, their
quality of life, and their productivity. Bottom line - a motivated,
open-minded tribe can change very quickly.
It is not uncommon for companies to improve one full culture
stage (say Stage 2 to 3 or Stage 3 to 4) in a period of two to
three months. That said, you have to realize that the economic
benefit of moving a full stage is almost mind blowing (to the
company). Our editor, for example, made us pull data out of our
book because it seemed hyperbolic. Essentially, if you compare a
company that's Stage 3 and bordering on insolvency to an
organization that has truly embraced Stage 4, you'll find the Stage
4 culture enormously different. The Stage 4 organization will
produce innovations, collaborate, and generally do things that are
almost unimaginable in Stage 3.
What sustains top performance? What keeps this
DL: The answer becomes clear if you reframe the
question. What is the bottom line? To begin with, you're not just
upgrading the tribe and walking away. You're upgrading the tribe
until you get them to Stage 4 and then you are launching a
strategy, a medium-term strategy that people can hold in their
heads, people are excited about, and that does something
significant. And as soon as a medium-term strategy is complete, you
do it again, and you do it again. And, over time, the strategies
are going to get more complex, add more value. In a nutshell, your
employees are going to start reaching for the stars more and more.
What is keeping the whole thing going is not culture; it is the
desire to make an even greater impact. Culture is simply the means
to this end.