Who’s in Your Tribe?

Who’s in Your Tribe?

Your organization is a tribe that desperately wants new members. However, simply employing someone doesn’t make that individual part of your tribe.

To illustrate this more clearly for you, I’m going to tell you a story about me and the accelerated evolution of American tribalism. Then I’ll discuss some practical solutions to the related challenges. Ready?

Growing up in 1980s Central Pennsylvania, I’d never seen big mountains. Moreover, my childhood home lacked both cable and a VCR, so my media consumption was limited at best. (Do any of you also remember the excitement of the ABC Sunday Night Movie?)

So the first time I saw the outrageously garbed neon awesomeness of a Warren Miller ski film, I had a profound, personal revelation: I’d found my tribe.

My first Miller film was 1985’s Steep and Deep. And despite eminently forgettable soundtrack lyrics like “skiing is believing,” my limited perspective was expanded, and new possibilities were now before me.  With every new serving of Miller, my world grew. Ski People, Beyond the Edge and Black Diamond Rush showed me that even though I couldn’t hang with the big dogs, their world was out there, and, if I wanted to, I could join their tribe.

My fixation on Miller’s films was the result of growing up in the pre-Internet age where much of the world was unknown to me. Today, though, the Internet has made every tribe everywhere effortlessly available for discovery.

Tribal discovery is still a crucial part of everyone’s journey, yet we’ve nearly eliminated the search where we ask questions like “Where is my tribe?” and “Where can I find them?” Instead, tribal seekers now ask questions like “Which subset of my tribe do I really want to hang with?” This creates much higher levels of tribal loyalty and is a profound change with important implications for leaders and their organizations.

I believe that easier tribal accessibility is a great step forward as it allows us to more quickly become better humans by accelerating the natural process of search and discovery that we all undertake. For organizational leaders, though, it also means that new employees now arrive on your doorstep with their tribal allegiances more fully discovered and formed. Fully formed tribal loyalties mean that there’s less space in every new employee’s world for you to imprint the values of your tribe upon them.

With employees already firmly ensconced in their tribes, your challenge is threefold:

  • First, you must convince new members to join your tribe—Recruitment.
  • Second, you must convince them to adopt your values—Culture.
  • Finally, you must retain their allegiance to your tribe—Engagement.

So how do you recruit new members, convince them of your culture’s value, and retain their allegiance?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Be deliberate about what your tribe stands for. What are your values? If you can’t tell people what your tribe stands for, then you can’t ever hope to find like-minded tribespeople.
  2. Understand what makes a good tribe member and why. Pose assumptions and test them. Ask questions and then listen. Approach this as you would market research, and the truth will reveal itself.
  3. Screen tribal applicants carefully. Psychometric tools have their place as they can provide insight into an individual’s personality. These tools are no substitution, however, for learning about an applicant’s existing tribes and their tribal values.
  4. Focus resources on onboarding. Numerous studies show that a quality onboarding process will more effectively imprint your tribal values on new members. Don’t miss this unique opportunity.
  5. Vote non-conforming tribal members off your island. Individuals that don’t share your tribe’s values are not tribal members. They are merely travelers passing through on their own journey. Don’t fool yourself into believing that they will become members.
  6. Celebrate the other tribes your members belong to. Your tribe’s members will always belong to numerous other tribes. Use this to your advantage by getting to know more about the individuals you work with and celebrating their other tribal affiliations.

This article is intended to highlight the change that’s occurred in our culture, its impact on individuals, and why it’s more difficult for you to find and retain the “right” people. If you’re still not bought into my premise, take a moment and think about yourself and the tribes that you belong to. Consider how your tribal allegiances were formed, what they mean to you, and how passionate you are about them. Your own experience is the truth of tribalism in the modern world and should serve as a guidepost to better understanding how to find and retain the right people.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and watch a Warren Miller film because my tribe is calling.

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