People in organizations spend a lot of time representing somebody else or something else. It feels sometimes that the company does not have employees but ambassadors.
Project team members represent their functions into the team. Project leaders represent the team into Portfolio Management. Functional heads (Engineering, Sales, Marketing, Strategy, Communications, HR…) represent their functions into a Management Team. Business support functions (Finance, IT…) represent their tribes into the whole.
Issue 1: some arrows point into the wrong direction. The VP of R&D, member of the Leadership Team, thinks that he represents R&D into the (company) Leadership Team. That’s why he switches off (e.g looks at his Blackberry) when there is no R&D topic in the conversations. But the arrow is pointing to the wrong direction. The VP of R&D, in fact, should represent the company (and its Leadership Team) into the R&D function (division, staff). If he wanted to be an Ambassador, he has chosen to represent the wrong people. Note, this is not a semantic trick. Representing my tribe into the company is not the same as representing the company into my tribe.
Issue 2: Any company has tribes (subcultures). Being buried in the tribe has its advantages. However, the ultimate goal of engagement is that the employee represents himself of herself. You have been hired as Maria Smith, and as soon as you get the label of ‘Safety Supervisor’, you will cease to be Maria Smith so that you can look like a proper Safety Supervisor. Again, not another semantic trick. “Being oneself’ (authenticity) is not the same as ‘representing oneself’(my own human capital).
In my Viral Change TM programmes, as soon as the champions/activists have been identified (following strict criteria) and are called to help, they cease to represent anything (geographies, functions, cultures, affiliates) other than themselves. Occasionally, and symbolically, we give them a business card with their names, no titles. Very frequently we hear: ‘About time that the company is asking me to help on something because of who I am, and how I am, not my job description. Believe me, a bunch of Activists representing themselves and united by a common good, is dynamite. A bunch of Ambassadors representing somebody (a function, geography, their bosses) has collective zero power. There is a choice.
Of course we all represent others, one way or another. But if your job is representing, not doing, acting, thinking, engaging, using your own human capital, then you are in the Internal Diplomatic Service, but without the perks.
The journey from a company of ambassadors to a company of agents and activists is a great journey. But you may have to close some internal Embassies.