Does Your Tribe Support You or Own You?
We were delivering an especially large Inspired Work Program. After the first lunch, a group of men came walking in together. They were laughing. They had come up with the “Jewish Mother’s Hierarchy of Acceptable Career Choices.”This narrow range of possibilities was based on how one mother’s eyebrows responded when the other revealed what her son did for a living. A minor rise was a CPA. Halfway up the forward was an attorney. Of course, those eyebrows reached the hairline for a physician. A specialist added a natural facelift. But, what happened when one of these young men came home and announced he was buying a florist shop? They did what most every tribe in the history of humankind has done. They responded with some form of, “You’re Crazy.”
From the moment that we are born, tribes exert profound influences on our decisions, behavior, and progress. Tribes have rigid rituals and expectations. When we break one of those expectations, the typical response is some form of, “You’re Crazy.” And what is my point? When we craft a new mission, vision, and purpose tribes will be there telling us to stop. For example, we come home and tell our spouse, “You know that six-figure job I can do in a coma? I’m going to start my own business. In fact, I’m going to start something that is altruistic in nature.” You know the answer.
Of course, tribes are not just related to families. Social clubs, religions, sports teams, alumni groups all contribute influences that once examined, reveal themselves as unspoken gatekeepers, permissive support systems, or a little of both.
Business tribes are also set-up to shape, mold, and control the behavior of everyone within. This isn’t a bad thing. It is just an observational fact. The Walt Disney Company is one of the most well-developed and influential tribes in the business world. Years ago, we were in the midst of a leadership program when an executive asked me if I could articulate the employer brand of their company. I responded, “Create magic at great profit in the midst of chaos.” There was a collective gasp in the room followed by laughter. But, for someone who loves creating magic, profitability, and chaos, Disney is heaven. Try to change that formula and there will be hell to pay.
Tribes push back when we make career changes, propose significant changes to the business, marry someone outside of the tribe itself, change political parties, bring in an executive from an outside industry. The list is endless and upon close examination might seem a bit superficial. But, in the end, one of the many reasons so many people become unwilling to change. At the other end of the behavioral spectrum, some develop the worst possible response to their pushback, which is righteousness.
In organizational settings, the tribe will often send out the most dominant member of a team to carry the message. If the proposed changes are frightening, that message will often be flavored with contempt. In our personal lives, the worst circumstances involve a withdrawal of support. But, tribes play an enormous role in our personal and professional lives.
How do we get them to support change?
Years ago, Xerox Sales Insitute built a team of behavioral scientists to rethink the way that we sell products and services. The single most important insight from their research indicated that humans are hard-wired to be able to think about something other than themselves for a maximum of 15 seconds. That means that making a pitch is the most ineffectual way of selling. Humans and collectively tribes are interested in one outcome, and that is fulfilled expectations.
For the executive that attempts to create change by dictating performance or the individual who relies on righteousness, this is bad news. Some might throw up their hands and find a new tribe. And, in some cases, that is the best outcome. For example, an alcoholic might decide to stop drinking. Getting rid of fellow drunks and trading them in for sober people is a good change. Distancing ourselves from people who will never accept us as we are is positive. But, all too often, many of us lose support from people that we need in our corner by simply not paying attention to what they want.
Here are a few examples:
“I know that we just lived through the departure of a significant portion of our team. But if you are here, it is because you are needed. I want to help us collectively create a business revolution. I have ideas about what that could look like. More importantly, I need to hear from each one of you what it could look like. Regardless of the outcome, I will see that each of you develops an even stronger career path and that you have more options and that you become even more employable than you already are.”
“For the last fifteen years, I have been coming to family dinners and complaining about work. I show up exhausted and feel I’m giving much of my time and energy to work that is meaningless. I want to bring joy to our family. I want to contribute to our happiness. And mom, you will be getting a weekly delivery of flowers for the next year.”
Employees do not respond to demands that have nothing to do with their own needs and expectations. We now have a huge population that is quite adept at going through the motions.
Welcome the pushback!
It is an opportunity to win everyone’s support.
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