When the best leader’s work is done the people say, “We did it ourselves!” (2) – Lao-tzu 6th century BC.
In the first part of this blog series, I explained that tribal behavior exists in every company. In this article you will learn how you can analyze and improve the behavior of your employees using Immelman`s tribal model.
Analysis of (negative) behavior using Immelman`s tribal model
The tribal model hat Ray Immelman describes in his book Great Boss Dead Boss forms a basis from which leaders can assess the state of their own organizations and create a practical approach to build them into self-motivating supertribes. These principles are as applicable to a government as they are to a commercial enterprise, as much to sports teams as they are to a church group, and are based on very strong value systems and ethics.
Urge for security
Immelman argues that people act in fairly predictable ways around their individual security and value perception – this individual perception is also strongly tied to the association people have with their “tribes“ or groups to which they belong. People are members of many different tribes in their lives, from family to neighborhood to school affiliations to professional associations to office cliques to functional silos. And just as people act to protect their personal security and value, they will work together to protect their tribal security and value. And the individual and the tribal interact.
According to leadership expert Sean Culey 1, Ray Immelman`s tribal model is essentially a simplification of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with individuals seeking both security and value. Where Maslow proposed physiological safety, and love/belonging needs, Immelman proposes individual security, observing that “individuals act to reinforce their security when under threat.” Where Maslow proposed esteem, Immelman proposes individual value, declaring that “individuals only act to reinforce their self-worth when their security is not under threat.”
According to Immelman there are following five tribal dimensions that help explain behaviors.(2)
1. Individuals are socially, emotionally and psychologically defined by their tribal membership
2. Individuals act to reinforce their security when under threat.
3. Individuals act to reinforce their self-worth or value when their security is not under threat.
4. Tribes act to secure their self-preservation when their security is under threat.
5. Tribes act to reinforce their self-worth when their security is not under threat.
People continuously assess changes in balance between these five tribal dimensions.
Tribal behavior and change
Immelman argues in his book Great Boss Dead Boss that resistance to change often occurs because change – or the way we approach it, is perceived to threaten people’s security or value or the change helps a different tribe “win” over another tribe. In management-supported change efforts, it’s the workers vs. management tribe that is the theatre of conflict – no wonder management initiatives don’t get very far.
You can use Immelman`s tribal model to analyze the type of threat (as opposed to the specific threat) the person or group feels and then deal with that.
Sean Culey, leadership expert, points out that emotions run high, and people’s desire for self-worth and to satisfy their psychological needs take over when individual and functional security is low. An easy way for people to elevate their own position is by highlighting weakness or blame elsewhere, and much energy is expended in the name of self-preservation and retaining their sense of value.
- defend what they think they know;
- over-estimate the value of what they have and
- under-estimate the value of what they may gain by giving it up.
If people feel emotionally disconnected from the organization, they generally believe that their ability to affect direction and decisions is limited, so instead focus on raising their profile by providing evidence of their importance to the organization.
This emotion driven behavior creates an increasingly ‘short-term’ area of focus, with management teams constantly looking to prove their worth. In these environments, any attempts to change are often resisted and undermined if it is felt that it doesn’t directly promote the values of the tribe, or if it weakens security (for example by changing roles or responsibilities). This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy; more management is required to control this behavior, which validates the use of a ‘command-and-control’ approach, which in turn generates higher levels of employee disengagement. In these low-trust cultures everything costs more and takes longer.
Effects of negative tribal behavior
Immelman explains in his book Great Boss Dead Boss that tribal behavior can have positive or negative effects on the company and its employees. If uncertainty prevails in a company, employees gather in tribes, to meet their needs. Often tribes fight each other, with disastrous consequences for the company.
Immelman characterizes how (negative) tribal behaviors thrive in insecure organizations where protecting individual and tribal values and security is paramount: protect the tribe, protect the status quo, destroy and undermine those who challenge. An organization of people thinking primarily of their own needs becomes very emotionally disengaged from the organization as a whole. To break this cycle requires what Jim Collins called “Level 5 Leadership“ – “leadership with personal humility and the courage to put their own fears and needs to one side and focus on creating and maintaining a culture of support and continuous improvement”.
However, Jim Collins often witnessed managers and leaders concerned about their own security and status, who are not really subject to humility – and insecure and self-serving leaders making decisions primarily to protect their own positions, creating an insecure and self-serving workforce.
In a weak, toxic, organizational culture people are focused only on their department, function or individual needs.
Some people initially fight against it, trying to demonstrate that there is a better way of operating. When this happens they may become frustrated, and then, realizing they are fighting a losing battle, they may either choose one of the following responses:
(1) Quit but stay. According to Gallup(4), 23 million people in the U.S. are ‘actively disengaged’ from their work. Result – millions of workers have resigned themselves to their jobs; they turn up and do their job at a basic level, but that’s all. It’s not so much what they do; it’s what they don’t do. In the US alone, the estimated cost of this lost productivity exceeds $300 billion. Bleiben und aufgeben.
(2) Leave. 47% of employees who said that they strongly distrusted their directors or senior managers were looking for a new job, compared with fewer than one in 10 (8%) of those who said that they trusted management.
Employees can go into a company and, with the help of Immelman`s tribal model, will be able to know within a short amount of time and a few questions if it is a healthy tribe that will be fulfilling to work for, or if it is a sick tribe that will suck their soul away.
Immelman recommends to create strong supportive cultures that encourage people to integrate and work together for the good for the organization. People who resist have to consciously identify themselves as the ‘wrong people’ that should be removed from the corporate bus as soon as possible.
In order to create a strong and supportive culture Immelman recommends “to merge methods and spirit”.
Merge methods and spirit
According to Immelman, long-term gains come in a culture that touches, engages and downright helps the human spirit to flourish. The merging of methods and spirit helps to create motivated, engaged, and valued people. This merger breaks the old shackles of mental models that hold back the organization’s journey on the path of continuous improvement. It is the merging of methods with human spirit that represents the beginnings of the next generation of improvement, which I will explain in the third part of this blog series.
(1) Sean Culey, Leadership and Culture: Part 1 – The Case for Culture, www.europeanbusinessreview.com
(2) Stewart Phillip International, Summary of the Tribal Attributes
(3) Jim Collins; ‘Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t’ Random House Business; 2001
(4) Gallup; Employee Engagement Survey Results, 2012