Know Your Tribe, Be Your Tribe - InformationWeek

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04:29 PM
Dan Keldsen
Dan Keldsen
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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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User Rank: Apprentice
2/29/2012 | 9:28:57 PM
re: Know Your Tribe, Be Your Tribe
I don't really get the "tribe" analogy you were making but, I understand the larger point and agree with it wholeheartedly - change management can be a royal pain (or at least that's what I perceived it to be).

I, too, have had very mixed reactions to changes I've pushed through - typically negative reactions to technologies that made everyone's life easier. "It's different and that's bad", "I'd rather complain about the old system than learn the new one", etc.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/5/2012 | 9:33:07 PM
re: Know Your Tribe, Be Your Tribe
Thanks for the commentary - glad to hear that the big picture found a connection to your experiences. A "culture of complaining" and "change is hard" is a very common occurrence. Often, the normal expectation, eh?

I'll take another stab at the "tribe" analogy... please let me know if this does or does not help.

In the "traditional" management of companies, there is a tremendously unhealthy "us vs them" mentality.

At the least, it's management vs. the shop floor, cube dwellers, warehouse employees, etc.. The proto-typical "command and control" structure.

Let's call that a war of two tribes (management vs. non-management).

Even though everyone knows full well that they all work for the same organization and *should* be "one tribe" - they are effectively two tribes, and without any finesse, they act as two completely different, "foreign" tribes to each other.

In more extreme cases, and also, much more the norm than the exception, there are nearly infinite clashing tribes - based on departmental lines, sub-department lines, based on tenure with the organization, management vs. non, acquired companies vs. HQ, regional/geographic divisions, different campuses, etc..

My comment on the "know your tribe, be your tribe" front - is that while change *can* be hard, it is FAR harder, at an organizational level, if change is FORCED on one "tribe" from another tribe.

Change management can be much more successful and (at least) easier, when you have bridges, ladders, diplomats, representatives WITHIN each of the tribes, rather than coming from "them."

Then the change isn't forced by an "outsider" (some other tribe) - but is coming from within the tribe, and is less threatening because it's coming from "one of us."

We're a herding species - and depending on who's numbers you believe, the "innovators" who will willingly jump in and lead the way with any new change, are somewhere around 2.5% of the population.

The potential "first followers" are another 13.5% after that, and the rest make up the majority who are waiting for consensus/social proof to show that it's safe to join a movement.

(These #s come from Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, Fifth Edition 2003 - which was the pre-cursor of Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm model)

If you don't go about finding those initial toeholds of innovators in each tribe/division (who are often friends with other innovators in other tribes), and tap their immediate network of those they influence, then all too often, change management runs straight into a brick wall, and the change effort stops flat. Boom! Done.

So... find your tribes, find your tribe innovators, find your tribal first followers, and build your change team to BE the tribe. It's a lot of work, but increases the odds of success MASSIVELY.

Sound reasonable?

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