‘The Queen doesn’t issue bad kit’. These were the words of ‘Droz’, my Battery Sergeant-Major for the longest part of my Army service. Droz had just run a marathon around the range road. He’d run it in army issue plimsolls and army issue green socks. Rolled down twice in the prescribed manner. His feet were in tatters, painful and bleeding, but tough bastard that he was, he’d finished regardless. Droz knew the Queen hadn’t personally selected his socks and plimsolls and he knew, probably better than anyone else at that moment in time, how inappropriate they were for the activity he’d just completed. Like much of our issued kit in those days, it did a basic job ok but it didn’t stand up to a more punishing environment. Soldiers on very little pay spent a fortune on good kit to simply keep warm.
Droz knew something else too. Something much more important. He hadn’t always been a model soldier, he’d had his scrapes and paid for them. But he knew that an Army descends into a rabble without loyalty. It is not being a rabble, but being disciplined, professional, organised that makes you function and for a soldier that means increasing the odds of staying alive. So Droz was sending out a message to those around him that said stay loyal, even when it hurts you, because your loyalty is more important than anything else.
But what happens when your organisation is so evidently getting it wrong that people are suffering, that their work is becoming meaningless? What do you do then? Can you continue to ask for this loyalty? Should you?
It is a question for leaders at all levels. To your team you are the organisation. If you undermine it, you undermine your position and ultimately yourself. If you don’t name it, you are perpetuating a falsehood, being complicit in a deception. Everyone knows, as Droz’s soldiers did, when the organisation is failing. Everyone sees through the rhetoric and happy talk if it isn’t grounded in some commonly held and accepted version of events.
Yet this is only one version of events. It is the way we are making sense of the mess we see around us based on the information we know. And if we see it in these terms, we must accept that others with different information will know this mess differently. It underlies the critical importance of Myron Roger’s principles of organising. The role of leadership in these circumstances is to focus on raising the level of information in the system. making more explicit what different people know. Building the relationships between people so that information begins to flow. That enables us to make a different sense of what is going on. It also begins to make us an ‘us’.
This deeper awareness of what is really happening in our organisation is critical in building our identity. As executives understand the real experience of being a customer or on the frontline, their view of what their business is changes. As middle managers gain the perspective that executives have of the wider operating environment their capacity to interpret that into everyday activity increases. Through building relationships, sharing information and creating identity, we release the collective intelligence of the organisation. Our capacity to make smart decisions, do what is meaningful, right then, when it is needed, grows. Our belief in our organisation grows with it..
Formalising loyalty through oaths and regulations may get you so far. Building identity, relationships and the flow of information will make your organisation meaningful