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Leading the Tribes: “Win the War Against Transactional Management”



It is the end of the world as we know it at work.  If we are not changing and adapting we are getting left behind.  Today’s employee is different in so many fascinating ways.  Today’s employee wants to belong to something special - a tribe at work.  Seth Godin legitimized our tribal tendencies in his book “Tribes – 2008”.  Today our tendency to form tribes has been enhanced by social media and a strong desire to remain connected to each other at all times.  This morning I walked into a fast food chain to order a breakfast sandwich.  The store was relatively empty as I was between the breakfast and lunch rush.  I walked into the restroom (the door was propped open) and a store employee was standing by the door interacting on his mobile phone.  When I walked up to the counter, another employee was texting on her mobile phone below the cash register as she began to take my order.  These two young people belong to several tribes.  Electronic tribes through social media are no less important in the moment than family and work tribes at other times.  More than likely this well-known food chain has policies that prohibit such actions, yet these two were both willing to risk trouble in order to remain connected to their tribes.

Sharing a common interest and the ability to communicate are the new building blocks for today’s tribe.  Social media is the accelerant in the technology-centered world we all occupy today.  Successful leaders will leverage these connections to build tribes in the workplace.  Gone are the days of loyalty based on the simple transaction of business.  A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work is a wonderful concept.  However, it will no longer be a primary desire for remaining in one place to work.  When it comes to talent retention, sticky companies will build strong tribes at work.

Transactional managers will become extinct in the near future.  Making business decisions solely based on the transaction rather than the common interest of the tribe will place a management team on the endangered species list.  A business transaction rarely has an emotional connect point for employees.  Without this connection, there is no tribe.  They can make the same transaction with other companies.  Transactional management lacks a human connection in a world where humans desire to be connected constantly.  Business decisions that look good on paper can be disastrous to the tribes.  In today’s reality, sound business decisions must be vetted by the impact they have on the tribes.  A decision that saves a company some money may cause destruction to the tribes that have been built over time.  The distinction between a leader and manager will become critical now more than ever.

Technology and social media fuel our tribes.  Just when we think we have reached the edge of the social media universe, something else appears that expands it even further.  Our social media tribes are extremely important to us and we constantly feel the need to communicate and interact with our people.  The powerful urge to remain connected is evident in every facet of our lives.  As a frequent traveler, I get to spend hours just people watching.  It is extremely common for a family of four in a restaurant to all be glued to their individual mobile devices.  When a plane’s wheels touch the ground, we all reengage our mobile devices immediately.  Our digital tribe is very important to most of us and we love staying connected to them constantly.  If we lose this connection at work, we constantly are thinking about that lost connection.  I work with a small organization who maintains a strict no mobile device at work policy.  The restrooms are constantly full of employees “checking in” with and connecting to their electronic tribes.  Strict mobile device policies certainly do have a place depending on the work being performed.  However, some organizations miss the reality that our tribes are often more important to us than the job.  If you make us choose one over the other, the job will lose more often.  We can always get another job.  Yet the tribe is at the epicenter of our lives and has been developed over long periods of time.  Sticky companies will negotiate this line with great understanding and not be so rigid in the policies made going forward.

Managers that emphasize the traditional transaction for pay are in for a rude awakening. This historical approach may have found efficacy in the past with the baby boomer generation; however as millennials are now the dominant workforce presence, the need to build tribes has become the new reality.  In my new book, Leading the Tribes, I will share insights for managers with the desire make this transition.  Additionally, I will show organizations how to hire and develop leaders with a tribal mentality.  The transition from manager to tribal leader is not easy to make.  Hiring tribal leaders will take a different approach during job interviews and yet these skills can be learned when making difficult hiring decisions.  In fact, new behavioral interviewing techniques can utilized to determine an applicant’s tribal mentality and affinity.  The most important point to consider is that HR methodologies of the past will no longer work for talent acquisition and management in the future.  Adapting to the new workforce requires both the desire and effort for success.