The Story of Sam
Sam, a small-town 20th century American lawyer, lived and worked his entire life in the community where he grew up. Franklin Township, a microscopic dot on any map then and now, didn’t change substantively over the course of Sam’s life (b. 1893 – d. 1981) except in one way. Organically.
Franklin changed as an apple tree changes. Seed. Tree. Bud. Flower. Fruit. Bud. Flower. Fruit. Bud. Flower. Fruit. Bud. Flower. Fruit.
The people of Franklin reproduced much like their fruit-bearing apple trees. Offspring were assumed into the community and they developed a sense of identity and belonging. How they lived was and still is a foregone conclusion.
Sam, with his fully distinct sense of identity and belonging, prospered in Franklin. Life was good; in fact, life was great. Sam, a big fish in a small pond, was beloved about town. He was kind, generous, industrious, and community-oriented. Sam in his own particular way made a difference to those around him by giving them a hand up; a much needed hand up in a world with looming dark patches of sky and erratic ominous storms.
A Superordinate Life
A superordinate life, such as Sam’s, is lived through an everyday prism of sun and shadow. It reflects a continuous pattern of means, motive and opportunity to commit good along with an underbelly of inherent struggle and strife.
Sam’s life was infinitesimally epic – it sang the uncommon song of an itsy-bitsy heroic journey played out in the common – a journey that changed its hero, Sam, into more than he was before, an ordinary man who ‘went away’ and ‘returned home,’ superordinate, and with gifts aplenty.
In 21st century lingo, an infinitesimally epic life is a personal journey to significance, a journey undertaken in droves by Millennials (b. 1982 – 2002) who, by their own admission, seek to live lives of significance.*
An Existential Harkening
Today, an existential harkening is upon us. The harkening is revelatory to the Millennial Generation; a generation whose fundamental existential questions about life are currently subsumed into building the next America (unlike their parents’ generation, the Baby Boom Generation, whose existential questions as young adults framed a cultural revolution and were at the forefront of change in and of themselves).
The next America will be Millennial-built primarily and the Millennials, as digital-age as they are, harken back to a time when a sense of identity and belonging as an American, a basic anchor to building community (economy) in the nation from its inception, was assumed much like offspring in Franklin.**
Who am I? Who are you? Who are we? Essential life queries about identity and belonging, queries often not deliberately expressed by Millennials, are nonetheless the foundation of the Millennial-built next America; a 21st century America in which a personal journey to significance will be played out globally with a sense of identity and belonging as an American anchored in the particular life.
21st Century Next America
The 21st century is ‘different in kind.’ Previous centuries were earmarked by American society grounded in a worldview of social dominance (or a ‘monolithic’ culture). The 21st century is giving rise to a ‘different in kind’ society – one grounded in a world view of social egalitarianism (or a ‘polylithic’ culture). Hence, the intrapersonal need for interpersonal significance in an America where a cultural mindset of everyone is equal, yet particular is advancing.
The next America – its people and especially its Millennials who are fastly permeating the workplace – are the vanguard of ‘different in kind.’ They are the vanguard of equal, yet particular. They are the vanguard of personal significance.
21st Century Next American Workplace
Monday, 11/20/2014, 1PM MT
I hurriedly scribble ‘strategy, culture and communications’ down the margin of a pink-papered notebook. Steve Sapletal, Director of Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) in the Minneapolis office of West Monroe Partners, a business and technology consulting company with a focus on creating distinctive solutions for companies undergoing profound change, is speaking decidedly about organizational change as I listen via mobile.
‘Without a clear business strategy, well-formed and sturdy cultural markers and continuously inclusive internal and pinpointed external communications, organizational change, whether a merger, acquisition or otherwise, will fail’ says Steve.***
I have confidence in Steve’s knowledge. As a former Fortune 100 ‘people and culture’ consultant I’ve seen many a corporate change project gone wrong. Typically, change projects fell flat because of 1) an uncritical business strategy coupled with a sense of complacency in leadership, 2) ill-formed and frail cultural (how we do things around here) markers throughout the organization, and 3) exclusive, rather than inclusive, change communications that fostered employee disengagement rather than engagement.
The three essential building blocks of organizational change relayed to me by Steve, i.e., strategy, culture and communications, are, in fact, a meta-model of creativity or organic structural placeholders for particular building blocks of change; all of which are differentiated from organization to organization depending upon the who, what, where, when and why of change, but especially, depending upon who (a whole ‘nother story).
From Particular to Significant
Given a ‘different in kind’ 21st century American workplace – infused with the Millennial desire for a personal journey to significance – uniform corporate schlock is no longer an option in organizational change or, for that matter, daily organizational life.
Organizational particularity, or the quality of an organization to be fully distinct (have a clearly perceived sense of identity and belonging) at individual, team and organizational-levels, is the seed of a superordinate (significant), rather than an ordinary, organizational life.
Organizational particularity is a choice – and not one that every organization wants to make. Particularity lends itself to becoming significant. With significance, all that a journey to significance requires must be born, i.e., organic change, a distinct sense of identity and belonging, the means, motive and opportunity to commit good, an underbelly of inherent struggle and strife.
Much like our 20th century uncommon, itsy-bitsy hero, Sam of Franklin Township****, and much like the 21st century droves of Millennials who are permeating the workplace and claiming particularity and significance for themselves as existential givens, 21st century organizations in the next America, that will soon be Millennial-built, have a choice; a choice to re-imagine themselves for a ‘different in kind’ world, a world of particularity and significance.
Which ones will take the journey? It depends upon who (a whole ‘nother story).
*Gabriel, Eroca, Success, significance and empathy: ‘Millennials’ on leadership.’ Quote: ‘To ‘Millennials,’ significance has a generational meaning. It’s not about money, title, position, power or celebrity. It’s about making a difference to others in their communities.’ LinkedIn, 2013.
**Howe, Neil and Strauss, William, Millennials rising: The next great generation Note: According to Howe and Strauss, Millennials are more like their civic-minded grandparents, the GI Generation, with a strong sense of community (read identity and belonging) both local and global. Knopf Doubleday Publishing, 2000, (parenthesis mine).
***Much thanks to Steve Sapletal of West Monroe Partners for taking the time to speak with me about organizational change, especially about his expertise in change, mergers and acquisitions (M&A). It’s through my conversation with Steve that I came to understand that organizations along with people can choose to become significant.
I had initially thought about writing a piece focused on HP splitting (changing) into two organizations, HP Enterprises and HP, Inc. per my contact with Kaitlin Mansour, Media Relations Specialist, of Walker Sands Communications. However, I found the concept of significance – and the consulting work that West Monroe Partners does to design and develop fully distinct organizations via their strategy, culture and communications meta-model – intriguing. Consequently: ‘From particularity to significance: Millennials and the 21st century next American workplace.
****Sam is my grandfather who taught me much. Thanks for the education, Sam.
Organizational communication maven by day. Food, wine and beer buff by night. World traveler. Entrepreneurial spirit. Contact Eroca Gabriel, a former Fortune 100 ‘people and culture’ consultant at firstname.lastname@example.org.