Reforming Rogue Tribes

My CBS Money Watch blog this week focused on Greg Smith’s allegations about Goldman Sachs.  If they are true, I pointed out that many tribes within Goldman are “rogue tribes,” according to Tribal Leadership.  Rogue tribes share many of the characteristics of “Stage Four” — including triadic relationships and a sense of vision, but the driver of behavior has shifted from core to non-core values.

Rogue tribes are dangerous because they are high performing, but essentially lack a conscience.  Stage Three tribes are self-indulgent and “me” focused, but are also hampered by ineffectiveness.  They are agonizing to watch, especially when the tribes run the government, the place that delivers your healthcare, or control your paycheck.  But their lack of agility and the inability to move as one limits their damage, and provides endless inspiration for Dilbert and The Office.  After one quick look at the stages that make up Tribal Leadership, most people can spot Stage Three, and see the goal: moving to Stage Four

But what do you do when tribes at Stage Four remain effective but lose their focus on doing what’s right?   This question may be the most important of the decade.  Military tribes are often Stage Four, and many recent stories show that they are not immune to going rogue, when individuals encourage or allow behavior that violates their core values.  Schools and universities should be focused on learning as a core value, and Penn State reminds us the great can go bad.  When Stage Four tribes lose sight of their core values, they can destroy economies, companies, governments, and tip the world toward war.  So this story about Goldman Sachs is serious, but not nearly as serious the broader issue about whether we can spot tribes in the early stages of going rouge, and if we can, what to do about it.  Here’s what to do if you suspect you have rogue tribes where you work.

First, take the suspicion very, very seriously, because your questioning the tribe may turn you into an accuser — and thus a target of their wrath.  You will need tenacity to keep going in your search for the truth.

Second, rediscover what made the tribe great in the past.  What values were in the mix, or present in those moments that made them so remarkable?  Use click down to make sure you’re dealing with core values, and not non-core values.  Also, go to the low satisfaction moments, when the tribe failed in some way.  What values were missing, or threatened? Again, use click down to target the core values.

Third, have immediate discussions about whether those core values are really in charge, or if drift and self-interest have taken people’s focus off them.  Ask: “what are we doing that’s not in line with our values?”

Fourth, ask what we’re not doing that our core values insist that we do.  These actions may require firing people, moving some high-performers out of leadership positions, or even dealing with lapses in past service even if they weren’t a big deal for the people your tribe serves.

Fifth, institute an immediate requirement that all leaders must be evaluated against the core values on a regular basis, and take any gaps seriously.  Don’t turn accusations into a witch-hunt, but into a renewed focus on the core values.

With all due respect to Jim Collins, our research does not support that a company is “Built To Last.”  Instead, companies’ tribes make them great in the moment, and constant vigilance is required to keep them great.  When people’s attention drifts, the tribes either regress to Stage Three, or far worse — to rouge versions of Stage Four.

What do you think?  Has Goldman Sachs gone rogue?  Are they dealing with the allegations in a responsible way?  Have you ever been in a once-great tribe that went rogue, and what did you learn from the experience?  I hope you’ll share comments below.

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