h5a] When the best leader’s work is done the people say, “We did it ourselves!” (1) – Lao-tzu 6th century BC. [/h5a]
This is just one of the countless wisdoms that Ray Immelman shares with his readers in his book Great Boss Dead Boss. In his business novel, for years a bestseller in the English-speaking world, Immelman entertainingly describes how a boss can create a new and better corporate culture, without being killed by his or her subordinates. Immelman uses behavioral patterns that have shaped mankind for millennia – tribal culture.
Improving corporate culture
According to Immelman, the goal of a manager is to
- build a tribe within the company, to which all employees belong, and
- satisfy the needs of the tribe by various means.
In order to achieve this goal, the manager must answer following questions among others, which are of great importance: “Who is the common enemy? “and “What is the common distinguishing feature? “of the tribe.
Now you may be thinking – we are not Neanderthals and surely such `primitive´ behavior has no place in companies.
Typical behavior in companies
Recently, I spoke with a manager of a large consulting company. He is the leader of their Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Group. They have millions of dollars in contracts every year and, despite the work he and his team put into educating the planners and engineers of their own company about the roles and functions of the ITS Group, they would routinely sub out ITS work.
At first the manager thought the planners and engineers were not getting what it was the ITS group were doing. But in reality what was happening was that the planners and engineers got much more value from subbing out their work. This value came from raising their stature. As contractor they became “the boss” of the project. By maintaining their relationships with other companies they were also ensuring future work for their group.
Their tribal needs (engineering and planning tribe) were better served outsourcing the work, whereas the tribal needs of the ITS tribe would have been better served by keeping the work in house.
The engineers and planners had „segregated” themselves from the rest of the company and did not have the company’s goal in mind. The lack of communication between the two groups created an adversarial atmosphere between the ITS tribe and the tribe of the engineers and planners which impacted relationships and quality of work throughout the firm.
Do you know such behaviors in your company?
This negative tribal behavior harms the company. However according to Immelman it is impossible to prevent these behaviors. People have a natural tendency to organize themselves into tribes and to satisfy their needs. In other words, the groups isolate themselves from the rest of the company and no longer have the business goal in mind. The tribe is the oldest human unit and still valid today. Tribes influence how individuals behave, individuals influence how tribes behave. Tribes exist to achieve for the individual what the individual cannot achieve on its own. Immelman therefore recommends uniting the different tribes in the company into a self-motivating supertribe with a strong boss to lead it.
(Negative) tribal behavior in companies
Ray Immelman argues that an undercurrent of (negative) tribal behavior runs through every company that, if ignored, is usually the primary reason for the failure to achieve the company’s goals and objectives. According to Immelman, it should therefore be analyzed whether (negative) tribal behavior is the constraint in the company. This is especially important when strategic and tactical plans appear optimal on the surface, but the company or individual team still fails to achieve its full potential. He advises his readers to drastically re-appraise the way they interact with each other in business and other environments.
Leadership expert Sean Culey also argues in his article “Leadership and Culture: Part 1 – The Case for Culture” that tribal behavior increases in our modern society.
The combination of increased “command-and-control” management and employment insecurity creates a perfect environment for poor cultural behaviours to appear. In these circumstances “blame cultures” develop, so when issues arise, and in order to protect themselves, groups form into “tribal functions”, focused on protecting their security at the expense of others. (1)
Ray Immelman illustrates in his book how the dynamic of individual and collective security and value can not only be understood, but practically applied to the betterment of all group dynamics. He vividly explains how you can get a group of people with different and varied affiliations to not only work for the common good, but actually want to excel at doing so.
The goal: employees should feel truly energized about working on products and projects.
Gaining a competitive advantage through a strong corporate culture
According to Immelman, every company can gain a competitive advantage through unity and focus on the company. In his book Great Boss Dead Boss Immelman presents a process that is based on values, morals and human behavior and that replaces a compassionless, dog-eat dog, inefficient system comprised of trumped up numbers and even bigger egos.
Prof. James L. Heskett also states in his latest book, ‘The Culture Cycle2’, that effective cultures can create between 20-30 per cent uplift in corporate performance when compared with ‘culturally unremarkable’ competitors.
According to Prof. Heskett, strong cultures create strong organizations. He argues that the dominance and coherence of culture is an essential quality of excellent companies – the more cohesive the culture and the more it is focused towards delivering value to the customer, the less need there is for policy manuals, organization charts, detailed procedures and rules.
The best companies and the best leaders understand the real drivers of business success: a long-term perspective which focuses on customer and employee relationships as the sources of competitive advantage and an emphasis on values and ethics as guides to decision-making.
In the second part of this blog series, I’ll explain how you can analyze and improve the behavior of your employees using Immelman`s tribal model.
(1) Sean Culey, Leadership and Culture: Part 1 – The Case for Culture, www.europeanbusinessreview.com