Know Your Tribe, Be Your Tribe

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in initiating major company changes is to expect that everyone's reaction will be even remotely like yours.
I have several interesting projects going on, and it's heartening to see so many companies begin to double-down to make collaborative innovation a sustainable reality.

But first, the bad news. The vast majority of companies continue to just hope that employees, partners, and other victims--er, recipients--of their change initiatives will simply embrace the changes thrust upon them. That approach hardly ever works, is painful, and even with the best of intentions and the most dire of circumstances threatening the company, is simply a bad way to deal with fellow humans.

Now for the good news. Smarter and hungrier for "sane change," companies are embracing science rather than art or brute force as a way to bring about change. I'm talking about the social science disciplines of psychology, sociology, behavioral economics, talent management (rather than HR), and neuroscience.

One of the biggest mistakes I've made in my career is attempting to make others change and anticipating that their reaction will be even remotely like mine.

In a wonderful, serendipitous moment at a client site recently, we had the pleasure of observing a workshop involving a distributed team representing and working in three different countries. They were meeting for the first or second time, in person, in the course of a year.

We were passively observing the workshop initially, to get a sense of how people raised questions, made suggestions, disagreed, refined, etc. This observation let us round out other observations we'd made over the last few months, as well as group and one-on-one interviews and surveys.

A fair amount of the workgroup discussion was about temperament/personality, and understanding the dynamics of how the individuals react to change, get their energy, and make decisions. It was great timing for our purposes, as we're doing much work in identifying the tribes, sub-tribes, and tribe "cross members" in the organization, to help to bring about a change in the company led by the people who will be living that change every day.

We're looking for the people who leap into change, who see the upside of changes being "forced" on the organization because of significant industry challenges. We also want to understand the hopes, fears, and in many cases outright cynicism and pessimism.

[ There are a lot of tool to pick the right people and help them work together. Read Oracle Shakes Up Talent, Performance Management. ]

You can't lead if you don't understand your tribe(s). And the best way to do that is to BE your tribe.

The biggest challenges of managing change are when the person or team "managing" is from the outside. That could be the "executive" tribe pushing down from above, another department, or another geographic location. Point being, when you're with your own people, who share the same interests and beliefs and passions and pains, then the change is far more natural.

So if your approach to initiating changes has been to assume that a single message, a single person, or even a single group is going to make change happen, I highly recommend that you pause for a moment and look to see whether you have one, healthy, change-ready company, or whether you may have warring tribes that are about to destroy one another amid forced change.

Do you know your tribes? Do they know you?

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