Smart Tribes | Book Review

Be Smart

Christine Comaford deeply explores the human condition and shares remarkable results addressing three things leaders (p. 1) request: increased performance, increased innovation, and increased emotional engagement. From the term “tribe” originating in survival based on belonging (p. 2) and our fight-or-flight response Comaford’s designates our Critter State (p. 3), in contrast to our preferred Smart State. When a team, and culture, operates in a Smart State, then the team is a SmartTribe:

SmartTribes are focused and communicate clearly and directly. They are unusually accountable to their promises and powerfully influential. And they have the energy and enthusiasm to do what needs to be done – consistently. (p. 3)

Via diagnostics (Part 1), solutions (Part 2 - the five SmartTribe Accelerators), and an Action Plan (Part 3 – including Case Studies), Comaford persuasively demonstrates performance improvement and return on investment via sustained SmartTribe behavior, backed by James Heskett and John Kotter’s Corporate Culture and Performance findings. (p. 4)

Diagnostics | Our Brain | E2L

Comaford cites (p. 9) talent constraints affecting corporate growth (Pricewaterhouse-Coopers CEO Survey) & profitability, and diagrams typical revenue inflection points (pp. 12-13) with recommended breakthrough solution paths. She compares Industrial Revolution (p. 16) management with contemporary leaders exhibiting SmartTribe Accelerators: Focused, Clear, Accountable, Influential & Sustainable Results, and further advises treating the (organization) system rather than individual symptoms. (p. 13) Evolving and optimizing one’s people – the company’s culture -- is always the hardest part of the process. Wisely, Comaford begins all engagements with assessment.

Pointing out human triggers (think Marshall Goldsmith and Mark ReiterTriggers), Comaford begins a deep neuroscience dive into our brains, reminiscent of our Energize2Lead (E2L) profiles. Our neural connections and association giving us meaning are formed between birth and seven years old, very much like our E2L instinctive dimension. Carl Buchheit of NLP Marin (p. 24) combines the limbic system with the survival mechanism in the reptilian brain calling it the critter brain, similar to Maslow, focused on survival, not quality of life. This ignores the neocortex part of the brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex, which enables us to plan, innovate, solve complex problems, think abstract thoughts and have visionary ideas (p. 25).

Our leadership challenge then, for innovation and growth, is aligning an organization with the Smart State rather than the Critter State. Brené Brown in Daring Greatly calls on us to rehumanize work reigniting innovation and passion. (p. 25) Reminding us of Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind, engagement, excitement and passion reside in the right hemisphere of the brain, primarily in the temporal lobe (think yellow and blue E2L colors). Or put more simply, Comaford points out (p. 29) a SmartTribe synthesizes the Critter (emotional) and Smart states – the best of both. Page 33 lists behaviors that send us into our Critter State (think Conflict Management Workshop Hot Buttons Exercise) and Smart State.

…if team members yelling at or disrespecting one another, gossiping, and public beheadings are considered normal, then you may be dealing with a Critter State, fear-driven company culture. (p. 30) 

Accelerators | Personal Leadership Philosophy

Carol Dweck, in Mindset, asserts we must embrace a growth mindset, which requires seeking feedback, as required in our Personal Leadership Philosophy. (p.30) Comaford adds that our brain’s thalamus may delete what we don’t want to see, hear, feel or deal with (p. 40), challenging our need to focus on the now - by being present with conflict and increasing safety – in order to develop trust. (p. 43)

Similar to the (Academy Leadership Advanced Communications Workshop) Committed Communications Process (Boss Talk, Lauridsen & Sherman), Comaford calls for clarity of our words, of our vision and plan, and of our intentions and (demonstrated) energy. (p. 51) In her Clarity of Intentions and Energy, five types of communication -- information sharing, requests, promises, sharing of oneself and debating, decision-making or point proving -- only two drive results, requests and promises. (p. 59)

Comaford defines accountability: Assigner’s Clear Expectation + Owner’s Agreement + Personal Rewards and Consequences = Self-Ownership and High Accountability. (p. 69) This allows for Needle-movers, (p. 70) very similar to High Payoff Activities (HPAs), including minimum and mind-blower targets. She adds trust (think instinctive E2L) is broken in three ways: Capability, Commitment or Character, and Ego triggers (hot buttons) occur when competence, significance, or lovability is questioned. (p. 80)

Worthy of a separate book, Comaford introduces our Map of the World (identity, beliefs, resources, behaviors, capabilities and limitations), and that neuroscience-based techniques can edit (influence) ours and other’s Maps. Three tools for editing Maps are rapport, flexible behavior and influencing phrases. Comaford distills Shelle Rose Charvet’s Words That Change Minds, Meta Program influencing process (which could be called “Applied E2L”) into six key Meta Programs (pp. 102-105) similar to E2L dimensional color combinations: Toward-Away, Options-Procedures, General-Specific, Active-Reflective, Internal-External, Sameness-Difference. Recall from E2L, 75% of people are wired differently than we are – reinforced in a case study of a talkative Fortune 1000 insurance CFO. (pp. 111-112)

For sustainable results Comaford stresses focus on outcomes (p. 120), energy management (E2L), and win-win (conflict leadership) agreements. Her Energy Allocation Chart (p. 121) exercise is a great idea. Lastly, she introduces Dr. Stephen B. Karpman’s drama triangle comprising Victim, Rescuer & Persecutor roles and how that leads to problem rather than outcome focused influence styles. (pp. 125-127) With an outcome focus, the drama triangle roles transform into Outcome Creator, Insight Creator and Action Creator, respectively, releasing energy and confidence. This is ideal for empowerment-based coaching sessions. (see chart p. 129)

Action Plan | Case Studies

“…we have found that if you start inward at the core/culture and align the outer layers (e.g. environment, behavior, capability) with the inward changes, your changes will be deeper and lasting.” (p. 138)

concludes Comaford using Gregory Bateson’s systems theory delineating six concentric (p. 139) levels of change. This explains why most reorganizations rarely improve culture (p. 140), adding weight to focus on identity (aligned action and values - see Jim Collins) and culture. However, Rodger Bailey’s Organizational Change Adoption Path (p. 146)

Resistance -> Mockery -> Usefulness -> Habitual -> New Standard

Acknowledges 65% of Americans can tolerate change only if it is couched in a specific context (e.g. don’t use the word change), so we must be patient while becoming a SmartTribe. Additionally, organizations must become learning organizations in order to be effective (Peter Senge), including Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Shared Vision and Team Learning. (p. 156)

Four compelling case studies, addressing representative dysfunctions, offer an energizing finish:

1. FounderitisReed Hastings (CEO Netflix) “In hindsight, I slid into arrogance based upon past success.” (p. 164)
2. Silos, sabotage & system dysfunction – two founders at war; aggressor & saboteur splintering organization into two camps. (p. 176)
3. Chaos Culture – Fear driven culture with owners believing sales were the only issue, with actual problems much deeper. (pp. 184-185)
4. Crushed Culture – Mentioning 2011 a Gallup Poll – 71% of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” (p. 193) highlighting three companies in early stage cultural death spirals.

Comaford’s case study solutions effectively reference her Navigating Common Revenue Inflection Points (pp. 12-13), and usually addressed more fundamental issues than the client anticipated.

Additional Tools

SmartTribe (p. 200) includes solutions (book chapter references) to common scenarios; additional references on page 207, and a practical appendix with numerous exercises. Overall, this book is highly recommended for corporate leaders genuinely interested in lasting change and anyone who wishes to facilitate lasting communication and behavioral change.

Note: Christine Comaford generously provided a copy of her book for review.

JE | January 2016