“No enterprise can exist for itself alone.
It ministers to some great need, it performs some great service, not for itself, but for others…or failing therein, it ceases to be profitable and ceases to exist.”
“Let’s be honest. There’s not a business anywhere that is without problems. Business is complicated and imperfect. Every business everywhere is staffed with imperfect human beings and exists by providing a product or service to other imperfect human beings.”
On Bastille Day it seems appropriate to take a minute and discuss “fraternite” in business.
Today is the French National Day, the 14th of July, or … le 14 juillet. By the way none of my friends in France call it Bastille Day <that is a creation of the American mind>. They celebrate Fête de la Fédération <the National Celebration> or just Le quatorze juillet <the fourteenth of July>. Regardless. The national holiday revolves around the national bleu-blanc-rouge flag and the French values of Liberté, Fraternité and Egalité (“liberty, equality, fraternity/brotherhood” … the national motto of France).
Anyway. Business. Inevitably a great organization exhibits both efficient AND effective progress. What typically creates that combination is part discipline, part structure, part leadership, all glued together by “fraternité”. That ‘glue’ is most often discussed in the American business world as ‘a vision’ or maybe ‘a purpose’. We do so because we Americans hate any kind of lack of specificity. But the truth is that the most common bond of a great organization is a more nebulous concept … one of “fraternité”.
“Any man aspires to liberty, to equality, but he cannot achieve it without the assistance of other men, without fraternity.”
Oddly enough, while this sounds relatively common sense, I kind of feel like business itself needs a revolution to overturn the current thinking to accommodate what should be common sense.
What do I mean? Current business is kind of in a wacky spot. It talks a lot about vision and purpose as if they are “things” … like maybe a lighthouse anyone can see as they bob around the chaotic sea of business life to find a way home. By the way … I would argue that is a very individualistic thought — “I can find my way home” type thought – and not really a team thought <but that could quite easily be debated>.
Regardless. Fraternity is more like “everyone not only knowing what they need to do to keep the ship afloat but actually pitching in whether needed or not because they love the ship itself.” That may sound like some wacky nuance but I have to warn people that revolutions can kind of gain some momentum off of some fairly wacky things on occasion. By the way, this thought is a more nebulous “I feel this way” aspect of organizational culture and, as noted many times, if it cannot be measured or indexed or scored <note: most older leaders into today’s business just don’t like that kind of shit>.
Anyway. Not to beat this metaphor to death but I do believe we need a semi-revolution in the way business organizations are created and run and managed. I think we may need that revolution because “fraternité” as a core principle just ain’t the way business is run. And, yes, it should be viewed as a “core” principle because … uhm … when discipline falls apart, when structure falls apart, when leadership falls apart … what keeps you on the battlefield and fighting is … yeah … “fraternité.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. A lot of people talk about a “community” or “company team” or some other nice sounding platitude which sounds a lot like “fraternité” but its mostly lip service.
On a bigger organizational level I worry about how an idea like this is getting suffocated by generational issues <younger people desire something and older people think they know the best> and maybe an outcome-is-the-only-thing-that-matters versus a belief business should incorporate altruistic aspects. Both of those conflicts are HUGE issues. I have written about in 1200+ word thought pieces on both of these but, on the former, the best piece I can share is from Corporate Rebels “Cut The Crap: The Made-Up Nonsense About Generations At Work” which states all people want meaning at work (regardless of age or generational label).
I actually believe we need some revolutionary thinking on the latter. To me we have a bunch of people who look at business and turn away because … well … I fear that they only believe they can change the world through more altruistic pursuits and not traditional business. And, yes, they are important and good pursuits but, from a larger perspective, business drives the world. Business makes shit that makes lives easier and healthier and impacts the home and life in ways that it is difficult to imagine let alone outline in a few words <and the business office/working groups creates behavioral cues which ripple out into culture>.
Somehow … someway … we need to insert the ‘believers of principles’ into the business world with all of their ambition and hope and remind them – and empower them – that they can change the world.
That they can make the world a better place. They can make society and people and lives better. And they can do it in business … not just altruistic career opportunities. If we do that, and do that well, I tend to believe we will build more organizations driven at its core by a sense of “fraternité” rather than a bunch of documents setting out some guiding principles, vision and purpose which everyone says “okay … let’s do that.”
It is quite possible that I am talking about ‘the soul’ of an organization. What I do know is that … well … read the following quote:
“I have found no greater satisfaction than achieving success through honest dealing and strict adherence to the view that, for you to gain, those you deal with should gain as well.”
I do believe we need to be drawing some lines in business. And I don’t mean company handbook type lines or even some well-crafted ‘lines’ in “how we conduct our business” or “who we are” but maybe they are more lines with regard to some unwritten principles.
I say that because when you can gather a group of people together who share a strong set of principles … well … they will walk straight into a hail of bullets to not only survive but to get good shit done.
“Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.
Now. Business absolutely makes dealing with your principles a constant struggle. It can kind of suffocate your principles in between the pragmatic aspects of getting shit done <discipline & structure> and the faux burden of some vision or grander purpose which “you know is important to us therefore it should be important to you.” Frankly, when suffocated by these bookends you don’t have a lot of elbow room for any type of true, intangible, unsolicited camaraderie.
The fraternité is more forced than natural. Obviously, when it is not natural it is not as strong.
In the end.
Fraternité in business. I believe we have forgotten this. And while I do believe many of us have forgotten how to draw lines with regard to our principles I tend to believe business, in general, has simply decided to just draw lines <in a box in fact> and say “there you go” … there are your principles and rules for comraderie.
That is kind of whack.
Look. I can honestly tell you that being a senior leader in a business and organization you like <you do not have to love> may be one of the greatest experiences anyone can ever have. What makes that experience truly great is when you are fortunate enough to foster something intangible, something that really cannot be measured, and something which doesn’t earn you some performance bonus at the end of the year … it is when you stumble upon the sense of fraternité.
I am sure some organizational guru will send me a link to “steps to build a fraternité organization” and … well … good for them. I tend to believe this is one of those soul aspects, intangible things, that is created less by some “how to” guide or some formula and more by simple good intentions combined with some good discipline, construct and leadership. To steal another word from the motto, by creating a fraternité organization you inevitably create Liberté for the organization to be te best version of what it can be.
This is what I thought about today, July 14th, as I thought about the national motto of France “liberty, equality, fraternity <brotherhood>”. With that I imagine I should end with where I began … no enterprise can exist for itself alone. That is the foundation for a fraternité organization.