Has your company started to resemble “Animal Farm”?
I will take a detour today to write about a thought that came into my mind this morning while sitting in church listening to the message from our minister. I have been writing about the value of experience and especially the value of learning from mistakes, but the reference to Animal Farm really struck me and got me to thinking about how organizations can sometimes resemble the George Orwell classic as they grow and evolve. It has been 30 years or more since I last read this classic, but I can still remember the main tenets just like I was reading the book yesterday.
Being in the middle of starting my own organization, I always think about the culture of our firm and not just what I am saying, but how it is interpreted and heard by those working with me and by those we serve. There are some very key concepts that are espoused in Animal Farm and it is worth repeating them here so that you can grasp the full impact of where I can go with this:
The original commandments are:
- Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
- Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
- No animal shall wear clothes.
- No animal shall sleep in a bed.
- No animal shall drink alcohol.
- No animal shall kill any other animal.
- All animals are equal.
Later, Napoleon and his pigs secretly revise some commandments to clear themselves of accusations of law-breaking. The changed commandments are as follows, with the changes bolded:
- No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.
- No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.
- No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.
Eventually, these are replaced with the maxims,
"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others", and "Four legs good, two legs better!" as the pigs become more human.
Let’s take these points and compare them with organizations and some of the idealistic ways they can begin and then evolve. No doubt that many organizations start as loosely-organized organisms with little plan or direction. This is not a bad thing, but this kind of creative start can lend itself to having very broad and unrealistic ideas about what a culture can or should be in a company. Leadership in many companies will start out with the best intentions to treat all equally, but this can quickly change as the revenues grow and the ability to become rich, powerful and a person of note come to the forefront. When these things occur there is usually a shift from the original maxims as we saw in Animal Farm to revisions that more fully differentiate the leaders from the workers in the business. I fully realize that a business cannot often operate like a commune where everything is jointly owned or shared, but to the point, most businesses pull the vast majority of the value and profit to the uppermost levels and tend to forget about those in the day to day roles who make things happen.
Note: I am a conservative Republican, so this is not a thesis based on any type of liberal theology. It is based more on practice, experience and my research through 54 years of life.
In many cases there will be some type of ownership change and when this occurs those with the most control gain most of the reward. This type of behavior plays out in the book and leads to many challenges as the story progresses.
What’s a leader to do when the company grows and evolves?
Is it possible to effectively reward and engage the entire populous of a company while it grows and expands?
I say this can be done and it takes some very unique leaders with some very specific ways of leading.
One methodology that works is Servant Leadership. I will not go into the complete description of Servant Leadership today, but I will come back to this in future posts.
Think hard when you are starting and growing your business. Don’t make unrealistic promises or promote expectations that are difficulty, even impossible to maintain.
Being fair and effective as a leader is a tough thing.
Servant leadership provides one mechanism to do this.
More to follow.