The Strategist

New level of corporate culture: "I'm cool!" motto is not cool anymore

09/04/2017 - 15:16

Level of corporate culture in any organization can be determined by external (speech) and behavioral (signs), says authors of “Tribal Leadership” book. Just imagine: no social and psychological research is needed - just look and listen.

A leader determines the level of the team and raises its step by step. The higher the level, the more successful the business. There are 5 levels in total: from the lowest first, where a team’s slogan is "Life sucks!", to the advanced fifth, when companies create history. Let's look at Level 3 - the middle step on the way to the ideal team.

The third level culture uses "I'm cool!" motto. Although, if you pronounce the phrase completely, it will sound: "I'm cool, and you're not!". Knowledge is power in this cultural environment. People guard it, be it a contact information of customers or rumors about the company.

People must be defeated at this stage of tribal culture development: victory for them is something very personal. To work and think better and faster than competitors is a matter of paramount importance, because competition for them occurs on a personal basis. 

The result of this attitude is a set of "lonely warriors" who need help and support and are constantly experiencing because others are deprived of their ambitions and skills. The word "team" at this level is understood by one "star" and a group of performers of secondary roles: a surgeon and nurses, a senior lawyer and his assistants, a professor and research associates.

There is an abyss between the primitive first and second levels and the third. And so is between the third and the fourth, where a team’s motto sounds states "We are cool!". The two phrases are similar, yet are radically different. Not "I", but "We". At this level, people understand that personal victories are illusory, and they come to help their teams.

There are about half of organizations with a dominant culture of the third level (or mixed type from the first to the third, with inclusions of the fourth) in the modern world. "I'm cool!" rules the world; it can be heard everywhere, from political campaigns to business books and a whole series of unwritten "rules" about how organizations should operate.

It all starts with hiring. Most often, applicants use a tacit scenario of the third level: "I am the most suitable candidate for you, because I have already been in a particular situation, I have taken particular actions, and, as a result, I got something like this." This is how people are taught to behave in job interviews.

When a few lucky people still get a job, they are sent to an adaptation training, where you need to sit and listen about different events happening in the company and how lucky the new employees are to get to work there. The introductory course ends with one of the most controversial statements of all time: "Here's your company strategy [which no one can articulate even after viewing a few dozen slides in PowerPoint], and I hope you can make it your own."

Then it's time to start to work. You get down to business with your new boss. He is supposed to be smarter, cleverer, and have better connections than other people. He tells you that you need to do ten particular things, but do not lose sight of other 89 indicators.

No one can clearly say what the company wants to do, so people start to find their ways to prove their own worth and to belittle merits of others. If the situation begins to tilt too much toward ruthless individualism, employees are sent to training, in which an expert will explain to them how they can all become a single team. The spirit and tone of this training will be exactly the same as in adaptation training and in a conversation with the new boss: "I'm cool, so you have to do what I say." But there is still a "third-level" world of trainings for managers, a world of university diplomas and degrees, where an army of cool personalities will tell you how they have become successful, and if you are good enough and patient, you will become almost like them, but, of course, in your own way.

All this may seem ridiculous, but "third-level" workers have already travelled the country far and wide, selling mortgage loans to people who cannot afford them. Bankers packed risks for future generations and received their short-term rewards. Physicists, who became experts in finance, developed models for banks to print paper for money. And when it became clear that there is a problem, politicians intervened and said: "We know this is the right way" – just to be re-elected when the situation gets worse.

There are millions of other "professionals" for every Bernie Madoff (a creator of the largest in the history Ponzi scheme). Every one of them is looking for a way to outdo their competitors in this seemingly endless short-distance race marathon.

There is the only hope - the new generation, millennials. Its representatives, it seems, do not welcome this situation. They, as a group, require teamwork and are not prepared to tolerate corporate tyranny and demagogy. They establish contacts with other people from their demographic group, as well as with those who are older, and create new businesses. Many of the emerging companies are completely different from mega-corporations of the twentieth century.

This new group makes its decisions based on a team’s values, not on the basis of what is best for them, or on the basis of a trivial list of five words that is hung everywhere in the company. They create cultures of the fourth level and find ways to achieve outstanding results. They keep in touch with each other through social networks or personal conversations. They say, "Oh no!" to the third level, and do not spend their time on outdated systems, as well as on people who preach teamwork, but do everything solely for oneself.

Based on "Tribal Leadership. Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization" by Dave Logan, Halee Fischer-Wright and John King