On occasion, I receive emails and requests to meet regarding the contents of FLAT ARMY. I try to answer those requests as best I can. Recently I received a series of provocative questions from a reader, and I thought it might be fruitful to release those answers in this space. I’ve removed the name and anything else that might infer the source:
- Do you assume a homogeneous organization? I ask this from the point of view of how this affects a notion of engagement, trust and loyalty across different cultures within the same organization – i.e a global organization sensitive to many different leadership styles and nuances that don’t necessarily “match”?
I don’t assume a homogeneous organization, but I do presume there is a common wish by the cohort of senior leaders to speak one ‘leadership language’ (with and between employees) under the auspices of a common organizational vision and mission. Trust, loyalty and the right to have purpose in one’s role supersedes any concern for the ‘singularity’ or homogeneity in our organizations. Employees want to feel they are valued, and that their role is meaningful to the organizations common mission. It can materialize in different ways due to regional cultures or geographical differences, but the end-goal should be the same for leaders; “to engage others to influence and execute a coordinated and harmonious conclusion.”
- Your definition of employee engagement
“…reciprocal trust between employee and leadership to do what’s right….”
Do you think there is a distinction to be made between loyalty and trust at a local level and leadership at a corporate level? I know that your view is that leadership is “for all” and not “in an ivory tower” – “but should permeate throughout”. Nevertheless the connection between an employee in a small office in SE Asia to the centre in New York (let us say) is a remote one?
As I write in the book, “Trust is not about rules. Trust is not about systems. To be trusting is to be mindful of the human condition.” Is there really a difference for an employee based in SouthEast Asia to New York when it comes to trust, if defined as being mindful of the human condition? Leaders are clearly aware of what they are doing to employees if, for whatever reasons, the working conditions or the principles of work are bordering on malfeasance or corruption. To me, that is not trusting, nor will that create any iota of loyalty. If leadership does not trust the employee – if there is no loyalty for what he/she can do in the spirit of customer service, production, organisational goals, and so on – to do what’s right is as possible as inhabiting Mars next year. “To be trusting is to be able to act with authenticity and moral good.” If there is no morality in leadership – wherever in the world that question is asked – there is no trust, no loyalty, and certainly no hope for employee engagement.
- In my own experience (personal view only) when you work for an organization that represents businesses from different industry sectors/markets, loyalty is to their product/professional community/their teams – not to the organization as a whole. Does that mean they are less engaged or happy? “They work with a passion” but not necessarily for the company as a whole – but their particular product and market sector. That’s where they feel engaged and want to demonstrate success. Who they are owned by only affects them when the overall strategy and direction of the company decides they are to stay or not or benefits improve or decline.
First of all, I don’t believe in happiness at work. It’s a rather unfortunate misnomer. I believe an employee can feel fulfilled, can be thriving, flourishing and indeed engaged at work if a) there is an organizational culture that puts employee engagement first, b) the organization’s purpose is to deliver results that serve the interests of all stakeholders in society and c) the employee recognizes the difference between a job, career and purpose mindset. If a team is myopically focused on solely its product, segment, customers, etc. it has the potential to be creating a disloyal, disengaged and disenfranchised employee – either in that team, or on the other teams that are trying to work with them in the first place. This is how a fiefdom, silo, stovepipe culture manifests – a very easy catalyst to disengagement in the organization. This is a very key concept leaders often misunderstand. Just because one team is engaged (and the leader looks great for creating an ‘engaged team’) it could be the root of problematic disengagement on other teams, due to the fact it is closed, and disingenuous to the needs of other teams, and the organization itself. It is the dropping irony of engagement.
- I’ve seen it first hand. A company I worked for (in a previous life) that was incredibly successful in its niche market and everyone who worked on it was very passionate about its success and its integrity to its loyal customers. There was the best feeling of comradeship and connectedness within the team than I’ve ever known. What they didn’t notice was that the company they belonged to was changing direction. At the same time a social platform was replacing our intranet – which I was particularly drawn to. I suddenly saw a much wider picture of what was happening and when I mentioned one day “have you seen what our CEO is saying” – the first response I got was “who’s he?” A couple of years down the road the company was sold. They were “dedicated” to doing the very best job, their sense of mission and passion was evident every day – but not to the organization. It was a restricted view. Does that make them less happy or engaged?
Whilst that team may have been engaged (perhaps by anyone’s definition) what about the other teams, and what about the final verdict? If a team is solely looking out for itself, without concern or care for the greater purpose of the organization (if it’s defined as I have suggested earlier) then there are going to be all sorts of other employees and teams that are disengaged (or not engaged) as a result of the selfish actions of this myopic thinking/acting team. Your situation is nothing new, sadly. Many organizations and its senior leaders award accolades and bonuses to leaders of teams with ‘high engagement’ when they are the very cause of disengagement in the organization itself. Another area to watch out for are those employees who are simply ‘managing up’, pretending to be engaged for fear of reprisal from their leader. If the first response from your example above was “Who is the CEO?”, it’s a ‘head in the sand’ syndrome coupled by the potential that this team was ‘managing up’ to ensure it looked good in the eyes of the leader.
- I work in an organization that is based on a “command and control “ basis – recently reinforced by the arrival of a new CEO. I work at HQ so I feel the changes and see it at play all the more acutely as the new strategy is slowly played out. As I said in my email to you, I think very much along the lines of what I’ve read in your book and I run projects in a way that allows me to be transactional, collaborative, engaging , considerate, inclusive, humble, but insistent and executing . But if the organization I work for doesn’t reflect that – am I wasting my time? Can you “be FLAT ARMY” in an organization of command and control?
I hold out hope that a flat armada can indeed be successfully implemented anywhere, in any situation. When they take the throne as King and Queen of the Kingdom, I envision (or at least hope) Will and Kate will lead the way to a new way of operating royally. Perhaps they can become a beacon of hope, in the United Kingdom, for example. “I have stated repeatedly through FLAT ARMY that leadership is for all, and that to become both a connected and collaborative leader, a camp mentality must not form. It is not us against them. It’s not a game between those with direct reports and those without. Leadership is not found in a white ivory tower; it permeates throughout, meandering like a river, reaching all banks of the organization. If you’ve missed that message, you may have wasted your money investing in this book. It too is not about a continuous group hug. Inclusivity is important and employee engagement is key but getting things done is also critical. Equality between the two must form. It is the new organizational symbiosis.”