People look up. What the immediate boss does and says. What ‘management’ do and say. In some cultures, this is more prominent than in others. In some cultures, people only look up. They have organizational blinkers that prevent side vision, only front and up allowed. Perhaps down as well.
People look sideways. What colleagues do and say. What the horizontal, transversal, tribe, ‘people like me’ (Edelman Trust Barometer) say or do. Looking sideways is peer-to-peer looking and ‘pressure’. Good pressure, bad pressure, benign pressure, colossal pressure, you can have it in different ways and shapes. The Edelman Trust Barometer has consistently shown this as one of the highest, if not the highest source of trust inside the organization, about double the power than hierarchical trust.
The balance ‘look up’ – ‘look sideways’, defines the culture of an organization. The defenders of the importance of top leadership role modelling will naturally support the idea that people look up. Yes, they do. But not in the fundamentalist way it is often portrayed. Looking up is a powerful source of culture-shaping, but looking sideways has even greater power. Cultures are shaped by the day to day unwritten rules of the transversal, tribal, people-like-me, peer-to-peer dynamics.
Traditional management has banked mainly on looking up and has underestimated or ignored looking sideways. Traditional management is vertical management: up to the boss, down to the troupes. Sideways? An anecdote, or simply ‘interesting’ ( an English word that means I don’t know what to make of it)
A simple self test is to reflect on how much you think, or are aware of the direction of looking of people in your organization. Even the most (‘we are’) hierarchical answer may underestimate the power of the peer-to-peer influence. There is always that kind of horizontal influence, apparent or not, whether you as leader know what to do or not .
In the Viral Change Mobilizing Platform we focus on the peer-to-peer engine of internal mobilization as first priority. We don’t ignore the fact that people look up, but we bank on people looking sideways. Statistically, there are a few to look up and perhaps hundreds to look sideways.
Management is truly geographical. Your social GPS is crucial.