2017: Ethos is a very good place to start

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2016 was defined by ‘NOT belonging’. 

The UK not belonging to the EU. Migrants seeking new belonging, others saying “They don’t belong here “. A long list of people the President-Elect doesn’t feel belong in the United States. Building more walls than bridges. The politics of separatism. The language and ugly divisiveness of hate.

We heard a great deal last year about what people were against but less about what they were for.  It left a dangerous vacuum where ethos ought to be. 

The reverberations are impossible to ignore in business. Belonging and not belonging is deep in people’s consciousness. It affects how they make choices and how they lead organisations. Or even whether they make a decision at all. Across commerce the inertia of uncertainty in the last few months has constrained decisions, a condition the neurologists call ‘flock and freeze’. In a topsy-turvy world, the right thing is often no longer clear.

Will 2017 prove to be a year of de-belonging or re-belonging or both?

As we start at the very beginning of the year, Ethos is a very good place to start. 

Business leaders wanting to unite and remotivate their teams for the New Year can start by reinforcing what they can believe in, what their organisation stands for.

We tend to pull together in a crisis. When we’re forced through circumstance to work to a common goal, we temporarily set our differences aside. We’ll overcome. But depending on this kind of collaboration every day, not just in a crisis, takes deeper commitment.

Much has been made of the importance of organisational purpose – a shared goal, a reason for being, a purpose bigger than profit. Important and highly motivating yes, but only half the story.

We also need something to believe in. For real commitment and a sense of belonging we need principles worth fighting for and sticking by. 

Ethos represents both: what we’re here for and what we stand for. A sense of belonging is founded on this. It’s what defines groups, organisations and nations.
Ethos is the cornerstone of belonging and performance.

Does your organisation have a strong ethos? Not a glib list of values, or a carefully-crafted positioning statement – but a real sense of belief, that people live and work by?

Here are a few ways to tell: 

1. Ask a few colleagues, at different levels and roles in the business, to sum up what your organisation stands for. Do similar phrases come up? Do people just list your values parrot-fashion or do they speak from deep commitment?

2. Ask longer-standing colleagues and customers why they stay with you. Is it just habit or convenience, or is there a deeper allegiance? Do people inside and outside the business share a similar ethos, or is it different? 

3. Ask senior people what business opportunity they would say ‘No’ to, and why?  What principle would they defend long-term over an opportunity for profit short-term?

If any of your senior team struggles with the last question then you have a more serious challenge. 

While belonging might have gone out of fashion in the last six months, we believe it is more critical than ever: the 21st century challenge is how to belong to many tribes at one time and move between them smoothly and productively. It’s complex, there are no simple answers. 

But for organisations as well as nations, while the temptation maybe to isolate in independence, it is interdependence that brings us resilience and the ability to progress quickly and effectively. 

Ethos holds our sense of belonging together, it helps us connect between tribes, and find the reasons for collaboration rather than conflict – a benefit that could prove particularly useful this year. 

After all, as John Mellancamp sang in the 1990s
“You’ve gotta stand for something or you’re gonna fall for anything” 

To find out more about how ethos and belonging lead to high performance, come along to our seminar on 9 February
‘How to connect culture, strategy, and governance’
Email francis@belongingspace.com to reserve your place