Management is an art that requires a basic understanding of how humans operate and function. As such, I find that I am often reading books from various disciplines such as psychology, history, sociology, and economics. Reading up on new publications from some of the world's leading scholars from these fields has been incredibly helpful in establishing my practice, articulating key ideas and writing my new book, Talent Optimizer, a collection of teachings and guidance that I have offered clients over the years.
One book that I found to be very useful in practice was the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.
Harari's book is best classified as history, but it spans across different disciplines by dappling into psychology and anthropology. One of the central ideas in Harari's book is that human beings have been as successful as they are due to their ability to share and accept narratives. A narrative, Harari explains, allows for people to establish an internal logic for their cooperation. This is true of ancient societies who organized themselves around the worship of certain gods or cultural heroes, as it is today for humans who collectively recognize the value of a currency. A given currency only has value because we choose to believe that tomorrow it will be worth something. Hence, even the financial system that we interact with is based on the principle of human's innate ability to develop and embrace a narrative. In this case, the narrative is that a piece of paper with some arbitrary symbols on it has actual value.
The examples above are meant to illustrate how narratives operate in our lives on a large scale, but it is a fundamental aspect of nearly everything that gives us meaning, including our work. The success or failure of an organization depends on whether or not employees can buy into the cohesive vision that has been developed – the narrative. So I would like to explore this concept by diving into some of the features which I believe are critical for attracting and retaining top talent.
Group Identity and Productivity Gains
In any organization, you are essentially compiling a group of individuals who have different educations, social groups, backgrounds, and so on, into an office with the expectation that they will function together. There are of course, financial incentives that have drawn these individuals to work together, but if that is all that is binding them, there is little in the way of community or culture. This is where the importance of core values comes in.
In the book, Tribal Leadership, for example, authors Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright describe shared values as the behaviors that bind people emotionally and allow a team to act in sync without having to debate every decision. Core values determine how you behave, what you will enthusiastically embrace, and what you will not tolerate. By recognizing this in the foundational stage of building your business, you establish a culture from the get-go that will create space for new recruits to integrate into a cohesive group. Doing this can improve productivity and guide the tribe to achieve a noble cause.
Core Values and Core Identity
I recently sat down with CEO of 360 Insights, Travis Dukta, to get his insights into how he manages a team of top performers. He discussed the importance of establishing core values and implementing them through monthly training sessions. With so many employees starting at different dates, there is constant overlapping and messy integration. By offering monthly training to all employees, 360
Insights ensures that the core values and vision of the company is understood and embraced by employees.
Travis explained that these training sessions offer a chance to connect people to the organization's purpose and meaning. By running through these sessions with employees, "They can connect to the vision, and they can add some purpose and meaning to the work." For a successful company like 360 Insights to function, there needs to be something binding together talent. And this training promotes core values and a sense of purpose as a comprehensible narrative that gives people a sense of purpose with their work.
Of course, a set of course values can serve a purpose beyond uniting employees: core values built around sustainability, for example, serve a great social purpose and should be commended for such. But what I am really concerned with is the innate interest for human beings to organize themselves around a set of ideas. Tribalism is something that has been a component of human interaction for so long that it has been essentially hard-wired into us through thousands of years of evolution. We crave social connection of social assembly. Thus emphasising core values to employees, both old and new, allows for a continuous transition of a coherent vision and narrative.
Finding Your Purpose and Branding Your Organization
Another term that we could use rather than “narrative” would be “branding.” Your brand is essentially communicating to the world what your organization does and why it exists - it is how you capture the narrative. One approach to developing your brand is to focus on establishing your purpose. This can sometimes be difficult and may require some abstract thinking, but creating your purpose serves two crucial functions. First, it gives meaning to your organization. It allows for management and staff to align themselves behind one purpose, which will ultimately improve employee satisfaction and performance. As humans, we crave purpose, so be sure to have one. And second, establishing your purpose and subsequent narrative aids the recruitment process. Once you communicate your purpose to the world, you can begin to attract the right people and repel those who are not the right fit.
Topics like “core values” and “purpose” are difficult to grasp sometimes, and I expand on them in other blog posts. But what I would like to emphasise in this post is that these concepts are not arbitrary. They have not been developed out of thin air based on some theory as to how you might be able to motivate employees better. They are concepts that have been thought over for decades by scholars in a variety of fields, all of whom are interested in understanding what unites people and convinces them to work together. These questions are the crux behind management, and all good managers should be curious enough to want to learn more about human organization and relationships. I have found that reading books written by top scholars has expanded my understanding of leading people and finding the right ones to lead. So much of this relies on how we communicate a clear narrative to those who work for us, and to those who may want to in the future. By developing a robust set of core values and defining your purpose, you can move towards building a team of talented professionals whose productivity flourishes.
To learn more about the art of management, be sure to get a copy of my new book, Talent Optimizer. In it, I show readers how they can build a strong foundation for their business that will have long-lasting effects.