Principalities are great for stamp collectors. They’re less appealing when they exist inside your company, thanks to the manager or staffer who has built his or her own private Luxembourg.
It’s a phenomenon known in the management trade as ‘empire building’: An urge to create fiefdoms with pumped-up staff and budgets that match the inflated ego of the perpetrator and it can sabotage your team, bottom line and worse.
“It can kill the company,” says Mark Faust, a growth and turnaround specialist at US-based Echelon Management International and author of Growth or Bust! “You’re lucky if it’s just reducing the potential of the company by 20% or 30%, but it could be a lot more. It’s one of the greatest constraining factors for business.”
Empire builders don’t care about that. Their goal is to increase their personal power and stature by amassing departments, information and head count.
They measure their worth by the heft and gleam of their domain. It’s a little like the peacock strutting his technicolour tail for the females, says Art Markman, a psychologist at the University of Texas who runs the Human Dimensions of Organisations programme.
“In this case, it’s not a mating signal, but a power signal to the organisation that you’re somebody to be reckoned with.”
Thirty years ago an empire builder might have been applauded for chutzpah. But times have changed. In recent years there has been growing scrutiny of the dangers of empire building; management experts have come to see it as a hidden toxin at the root of many business dysfunctions, leading to excess spending, anaemic growth and turf wars.
In today’s lean landscape, there is little tolerance for rogue hoarders and bloat. Further, leadership philosophies are evolving from the rigid command-and-control structure to a collaborative model.
Power-hungry alphas are seen as undermining the collective good and hindering employee engagement.
In fact, empire building can be seen as a tendency of new, status-seeking middle managers who want to create organisations around them. The danger is that you pump up expenses too high and too soon.
Payroll and administrative costs start rising, but you don’t see the revenues. Worthwhile projects get scuttled this way.
How to spot an empire builder:
- A department suffers from excess spending
- Visible power struggles demoralise teams
- There are frequent bottlenecks
- Employee engagement is hindered
- Poor bottom line
- Poor team morale
- The company’s potential is reduced by up to 30%
- Worthwhile projects are scuttled
- Growth is hindered.
Follow the bickering
Empire builders are skillful manipulators who build up their holdings over time – manoeuvre for a project here, adding budget there. “It can happen to anyone,” says Robert Quinn, faculty director of the Centre for Positive Organisations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
“Usually, they’re very technically competent at something, and the person takes advantage of that. It creates friction in the organisation, but because of the power base, it’s felt that no one can touch the person.”
It’s ‘too big to fail’, the personnel version. A classic case is the IT chief, keeper of the sacred code, or a sales honcho who is so good at what he does that no one dares challenge him. Empire builders are not hard to find: Just follow the bottlenecks and the bickering.
Secret agendas, diverted resources, walling off one part of the company from another – empire building can smother performance and destroy rapport and trust. In addition to territoriality, the behaviour breeds resentment and disengagement, fuelling interpersonal conflict and division.
“Companies are human networks,” Quinn says. “Everyone suffers when there’s no longer a sense of teamwork or organisation.”
It’s on this cultural level where the rot of empire building really takes hold, souring relationships and creating internal rivalries that take time and energy away from the battle against the real competitors in the market.
“Empire building is the enemy within,” says Dana Ardi, author of The Fall of the Alphas. “They’re not operating for the greater good.” She argues that the behaviour is out of step in the social era of collaboration and connection.
“We want a competitive spirit, but we don’t want people competing against each other. You want to be in a culture that rewards collaborative behaviour and the overarching goals of the company.”
Research on human motivation over the past couple of decades has shown that the command-and-control model of leadership is flawed. As University of Rochester psychology professor Edward Deci has detailed in Why We Do What We Do and a host of landmark studies, monetary incentives and rigid control don’t drive employees.
To get the best out of your team, you have to allow them to participate and be more autonomous, and you have to make sure they understand how they are contributing to the company mission.
Empire building is the antithesis of that. “The question isn’t how much can I achieve; it’s what can I contribute,” says Rick Wartzman, executive director of the Drucker Institute in the US. “That’s one of the hallmarks of a leader. What’s the mission of the company? Your objective should be in line with the objective of the company.”
The territorial urge
The drive to extend domain and, thus, status has been playing out for millennia in the sweepstakes for survival of the fittest. The more territory and resources, the more power. Those who can dominate gain further access to additional valuable resources.
But this competition is no longer about physical survival; rather, it’s about social and psychological survival. “Today we fight over the survival tools of information, relationships, status or visibility. That’s what people need to succeed,” says Annette Simmons, author of Territorial Games. In fact, Simmons says, empire building is simply another term for protecting territory.
They both come from the same primitive place in our brains, the emotional hub of the ancient limbic system. That means empire-building stratagems like keeping an employee from working on someone else’s project so they can work on yours fall into the reflex category. The typical empire builder is oblivious to what he or she is doing.
Some empire builders are responding to the signals the organisation is sending as to what constitutes power. Others are driven by contingent self-esteem, a belief that self-worth comes from external markers such as money, recognition, size of office/budget/staff.
It’s a futile game; external approval can’t make a person happy, because it’s based on what others think. Further, it’s fickle, and it can put a person on a hedonic treadmill where they can never catch up with the next set of wants.
“If they get the corner office, now they need the suite,” Markman says. “They have five people working under them, now they need ten. That isn’t going to end.”
The prime mover for most empire builders, it turns out, is the opposite of what they want to project: Weakness. As with the braggart, behind the brash behaviour is anxiety and a low self-esteem that has to be padded constantly.
“If you’re not telling them how great they are, they’re in an anxious state that they’re not great,” Markman adds. “All of this is a way of trying to keep the anxiety at bay. ‘I must be important; I’ve got a huge staff.’”
When personal worth is based on the external domain, there’s a constant fear that someone’s going to take it all away.
“When you start seeing behaviours that reflect someone needing to control everything – a lack of integrity, backstabbing, information hoarding, empire building for the sake of empire building – it’s often a reflection of someone feeling threatened,” says Nicole Lipkin, author of What Keeps Leaders Up at Night.
“The real or imagined threat is often a perceived threat to one’s self-esteem or sense of self.”
That sense of self needs more strokes if it is part of a narcissistic personality, which fuels the empire-building psychology.
Unhealthy narcissists are in it for the glory and praise; they need a steady stream of both to feel powerful. Because their self-construct is weak, they detest criticism and can’t stand for anyone else to get credit for anything good that happens – which makes them extremely hard to work for and sows dissension in the ranks.
They lack a crucial ingredient of leadership: Empathy. They can turn on anyone at any time, stretch the truth, hide bad data, duplicate staff without a whiff of concern about the effect on budget and rationalise it all as necessary for getting the job done.
No wonder colleagues break out the champagne when these self-obsessed roadblocks are relieved of their duties. Quinn of the Ross School of Business recalls when an empire builder at a company where he worked – an executive secretary who used her access and institutional knowledge to build her fiefdom – was fired.
“Her last day, as she walked down the hallway, heads popped out to watch her, and after she left everyone sang, ‘The wicked witch is dead.’”
Reigning in imperial designs
It’s not only power and insecurity that cause imperial behaviour. Organisations can enable it, too, by signalling that amassing resources is the route to respect and power. Empires rise within companies because, “Either the organisation is not clear on what its objectives are, or you have people who are not fit for leadership,” says the Drucker Institute’s Wartzman.
The solution lies in communicating the goals of the organisation clearly and calling out offenders. Take the time to ask questions and listen to staff for problems and conflicts. What’s standing in the way of the mission and performance?
Identify the black hole where resources and engagement are vanishing, then confront the person responsible with the evidence: Outsized staff, perks, ballooning turf, conflict with others. The response will usually be, “I’m just doing my job.”
“The truth is the person is not doing their job,” Quinn says. “Part of the job is embracing the common good. When I’m destroying that, I’m not doing my job. It has enormous financial implications. When your team breaks down, and the climate becomes toxic, you’re losing things that impact the bottom line.”
The empire builder has to understand that his or her behaviour is a detriment to the company, which means bad job performance – something that can wake up the insecure very quickly. The key point, Wartzman says: “You need to be focused on creating value for customers, not yourself. It’s backwards.”
Performance reviews are a good place to make the case that being a leader requires the effective use of resources. Another approach is to show why it’s in the person’s long-term interest to rein in the potentate behaviour.
Markman suggests taking a trip forward in time with the empire builder and having the person review their life from the point of view of their retirement years. What most people want, he says, is to feel like they were respected, that they moved their organisation forward, that they innovated.
“There are very few people who look back on their career and say that what they wanted was to have a very big office.”
Related: 4 Ways to Diffuse a Toxic Workplace
How Your Company Can Become A Champion Of Change
Take control of the change management see-saw to achieve your business objectives
Constant change is a reality for business owners, but today that change is happening faster than ever before, both within businesses and across industries. Transformation has therefore become a strategic non-negotiable as companies must adapt to remain relevant in this era of unprecedented disruption.
Unfortunately people – your staff – are hardwired to resist change. It’s predominantly a subconscious psychological response to a fear of the unknown and the uncertainty this creates.
This is a major reason why few organisational transformation initiatives succeed (just 30-38% according to a commonly-cited McKinsey study) in achieving all of the project’s objectives.
However, there is an effective process that business owners can follow to successfully implement, manage and champion change to more effectively adapt to a modern marketplace that’s in constant flux.
Step 1: Define the objective
A business owner must first clearly define the new business objective that necessitates the change. We call this the Victory Condition.
It’s a company’s ultimate measure of success, and establishing this objective is vital to ensure that everyone in the business knows where the company is headed, particularly as this information will define their Path to Victory.
Step 2: Create buy-in
However, forcing to staff to follow this path without their input and consultation – important processes that make their buy-in more likely – can amplify their resistance to change.
Without buy-in there’s no shared common interest in the process or the objective. That’s when resistance usually manifests as inertia, petty meddling and sometimes, outright destructive behaviour.
Step 3: Tip the see-saw in your favour
The catalyst for disruption during periods of organisational change is usually negativity. Even the slightest negativity can tip the balance of the change management see-saw against business owners and company leadership when trying to implement and manage a transformation strategy.
That’s because most staff tend to sit in the middle, waiting to see which way the see-saw will tilt.
The fact that most people are tuned to gravitate towards negativity means the balance of forces can easily swing in that direction when there’s a groundswell of negativity within an organisation.
To tip the see-saw in your favour it’s crucial to identify and root out the ‘bad eggs’, as they’re the ones who draw staff to the negative side. It’s also vital to ensure that the company identifies and works to retain its good people. With this combined approach, leadership will greatly enhance the probability of success.
Step 4: Identify and create champions
The final step is to create champions for growth and impact within your company. This is the other reason why you need to retain your best staff. These are the people who will help to shift others within the organisation to the right side of the change management see-saw.
To do so requires empowering these champions to become catalysts for positivity, by letting them lead through demonstrable action according to the business’s Victory Condition.
However, to ensure that this is the kind of action that benefits the business, your champions need to clearly understand the objective, and the potential paths the business can take to get there.
Empowered with this information, it’s then up to them to communicate and share the Victory Condition with the rest of the staff, and ensure they understand it. This creates organisational cohesion and ensures that everyone is working towards the realisation of the Victory Condition.
Business Leadership – Learn How To Embrace Change
Embrace change! It is the new intelligence!
“Embracing change is the new intelligence”
Initially your IQ was considered in most circles to be a key determining factor of your success as a business leader. Deeper research into the realm of emotional intelligence has revealed its potential as a catalyst to build meaningful and results driven relationships that can change the world.
Yet another highly interesting topic of conversation has been echoing in lecture halls, boardrooms, and the minds of entrepreneurs. Scary to some, very exciting to others, changes within an industry or business environment are always just around the corner. To get to intelligent, pragmatic and very useful answers it must begin with intelligent and practically orientated questions:
“Just how important has your ability to adapt to useful change, forced changes in the market place or industry, as a core leadership skill become??
The author shares the opinion of numerous modern thought leaders that identifying useful change, embracing it, and incorporating it as a part of the company culture has become a core skill. A skill that every entrepreneur and leader must possess or learn that is if they have a strong desire to build a sustainable ,thriving company and leave a lasting legacy. Your ability to embrace useful change is at the very least more important than your IQ and equal to if not more important than your level of emotional intelligence.
A successful change journey starts with a healthy view of useful change and the acceptance of as Robin Sharma says:
“Change is always hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end…”
Understanding the real purpose of a change intervention and how it aligns with and serves the vision and goals of your company is the launching pad for a successful change intervention. I must point out at this stage that a wise performance coach once shared that:
‘The success of any transformation is highly dependent upon the internal state of the person or people driving the change journey’.
To clarify and simplify the above it can be applied to our daily lives. Our attempts to lose weight are often stymied by our need for the immediate gratification of tasty food and a full stomach and we fall in love with the warm feeling/s associated with that.
Losing weight poses another challenge to us. It pushes us outside that space of comfort that we love so much. The journey asks more from us. The willingness to sacrifice the known for the unknown is also a requirement that proves to be a bridge too far to cross for most.
If however you fully understood literally all the benefits of a weight loss journey and especially how it aligns with your life’s’ purpose and goals your willpower will be enhanced as well as your general attitude.
Lets’ say as an example that you are an entrepreneur whose purpose is to positively transform the lives of your clients through the use of your product. By losing weight in a healthy way you will not only look better, feel better, you will also have the energy to work harder at your goals of for example selling more products.
You will have more energy and willpower to coach and empower your team. Therefore weight loss and fitness considered within a positive paradigm that is not only aligned with your personal health goals but also with your purpose as an entrepreneur will likely give you the necessary perseverance to succeed that is if you sincerely believe in your purpose and considered all benefits of the change intervention.
I recently facilitated a change intervention at a factory as a consultant. Initially most involved thought they were just going to receive orders to produce and sell more of a certain product. Instead their own purpose was revealed to them and how producing and selling more of the product could enhance their own skill set, performance, and self-development.
More importantly they realised that this change intervention could potentially enhance the income and experience of their customers vastly. According to the feedback received they felt more motivated and empowered than ever, and are achieving way more sales of the product range that they are focussing on than ever before.
When a change intervention is truly embraced by your team because they truly feel and understand the purpose of it and are excited about how it will positively affect their collective future and their internal state mostly positive powerful and lasting results can be achieved.
Another ‘insurance policy’ that goes a long way in ensuring sustainable success in business within a challenging and changing environment is to establish a learning culture within your business. Strongly encourage and create circumstances ideal to practical learning which also embraces the opportunity to learn from failures and apply solution driven thinking.
When your team members pursue learning and positive experimentation they will be more open minded and confident when useful change interventions can be exploited for further self-development and company growth. Embrace change! It is the new intelligence!
The Future Of Work: Creating Excellent Culture To Be An Employer Of Choice
Millennials already make up a significant percentage of the “new workforce”. They seem to flourish in work environments where the experience includes diversity, transparency, and collaborative work cultures, with flexible working conditions and work that contributes to positive social influence.
Why it is important to be “an employer of choice”
An employer of choice is not only in business for profit, but also to ensure that their people develop the potential, as humans. This is not only done for the good of the business, but to develop individuals who are responsible stewards working towards a common purpose of healing or refreshing fellow humans and the earth (fauna and flora).
If you are in business and you have people working with or for you, you want to attract a mix of employees. Some will have the best industry skills for example, and others will have exceptional leadership capacity. More importantly, you would want, regardless of skills, people with great positive attitudes.
Attracting employees with top-notch skills, outstanding character and great attitudes would require that you design a business with excellent character and culture.
Vision Led and Values Drive Employer Value Propositions (EVP)
The line “vision led, values driven” is well known. To be a successful business you have to have a meaningful and resilient vision to inspire your team, driven by robust and powerful values.
It is crucial to communicate well with employees “why” and “what” they are part of achieving (i.e. vision). Vision needs to be externally focused; describing the desired impact to be made on the world, or how the business aspires to create a better society.
Having a vision to buy into and the values that support it, forms part of the Employer Value Proposition (EVP) – this is what employees are offered in return for their hours of work.
Research shows five elements that employers need to focus on when defining their EVP: Rewards, opportunity, organisation, people, and the work itself.
Creating an Employer of Choice culture
In short, listen, then listen a bit more, and then act accordingly.
Start by serving your clients and your people, clearly understanding their needs, wants and desires. Then build a vision to fulfill the needs and always do business responsibly.
There are various ways to determine the needs of your clients and your employees. We focus on the needs of employees and have designed a culture assessment to understand the internal culture. It also measures some external elements, like customer service from an internal perspective.
We focus on elements relating to how we serve, bring harmony and patience, experience joy, being good and kind, building trust and having self-control. Once you understand how your culture looks, then you can define how you want it to look or what you believe it should be in terms of values.
Create an excellent culture that adds substance to your EVP, to be an Employer of Choice.
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