Articles, Leadership

The importance of Ritual in Management Development and delivering improved performance

November 1, 2017, Author: bluesky6478


One of the most famous rituals we see is the All Blacks famous HAKA before matches. This ritual is enjoyed the world over but it is not just for the crowd or the cameras. It plays a crucial role in reminding the players of their overall objective and their individual commitment to that; their individual role to achieve the objective and what standards are expected of them. Importantly, it marks the transition from training to Test Match. The Haka signifies all this and more. It is a personal and public commitment to shine and deliver.

At times like Halloween when we are fully engaged in an ancient Celtic/Druidic festival I am always surprised at how we have managed to minimise the role of ritual in society and within companies. While we still have ceremonies around events such as communions, confirmations and weddings too often these events are focused on the guests rather than the individuals at the heart of them. We have all been to birthdays, communions and weddings that have been parties for adults, friends, neighbours and family rather than the child or bride and groom themselves.

Even when we do focus on the child or the bride and groom we rarely do it in the context of what is being marked by the event. How often do we engage with them to explain how the world will start to see them differently after this event; maybe not immediately but over time? How will expectations of behaviours change, how can they deal with this, what will they leave behind or give up and what adventures and support are awaiting them.

Similarly within our companies how often do we mark events in our corporate lives or those of our employees? We have an induction for new starters but do we sit down and explain the culture of the organisation, the role we expect them to play. Do we outline how decisions are taken, whether we expect team members to lead or follow, whether we expect and welcome people who speak up or those who do as they are asked? Do we explain whether we socialise within the office or outside or if that is frowned upon.

All the recent research points to how important the on boarding process is; starting at the recruitment stage and all the way to assigning coaches and mentors when the person starts. This on boarding process is a ritual in itself with familiar stages of leaving the present role, preparation for the new, the new role itself, on-going support and celebration. It applies to both a new start and an internal promotion.

When we promote people from within do we engage to explore how the new role will be different, how expectations of behaviour will be different. For example, how will we manage interactions with former team mates who may now be direct reports, what new values and behaviours are we now looking at this person to deliver? For the individual how do they celebrate this success and mark the transition from say team member to team lead or manager to director. We are always balancing contradictions and in this case how can we balance pride in our achievement with appreciation for the opportunity. Again, if we look at this from the perspective of Ritual are we recognising the key stages within any ritual across the globe?

  • Accepting we are leaving something behind
  • Preparing for the new role
  • The new role itself
  • On-going Support
  • Celebration to mark the transition

It is vitally important to mark the occasion by following this well established blueprint. This ensure new hires, newly promoted staff or those changing roles do not feel isolated but part of a community that is supporting their growth. In that way they can, in turn, support others in their growth and development. As Maya Angelou famously said “people may not remember what you said but they will remember how you made them feel”

In indigenous societies we see a blueprint for rituals that marked the passage from childhood to adolescent, adolescent to adulthood, parent to grandparent and ultimately our final journey. We should be looking to replicate that in our own organisations

  • Leaving behind – Is the individual happy to leave the comfort zone and existing responsibilities, connections, relationships etc. Crucially, we may need to mark the stage of the process where these very skills and behaviours that served so well in the last role may now to give way to new skills and behaviours in the new role. Doing may give way to delegating, technical ability may give way to collaboration, managing may give way to leading.
  • Preparation – How are we preparing people for the potential new role, what examples are we setting, what skills are we ensuring they have or are teaching them for the role? Do they really aspire to this new role and all that goes with it? Are they ready emotionally and technically for the new role
  • The event itself –
    • How do we ensure there is a shared understanding of what new behaviours or actions are expected, what behaviours or activity will be expect to see less of or let go of altogether, what projects will need to be handed over or delegated, how does the individual learn how to delegate, to trust, to lead to inspire
    • How do we make the announcement, how do we deal with those who missed out or communicate with those who will now have a new boss.
  • Ongoing support – Have we identified the skill sets that will need to be developed, the learning, coaching and/or mentoring framework to support this. Does their new boss understand their role in developing and supporting the individual.
  • Celebration – How do we acknowledge this for the individual, family, team and company

These rituals were so important in societies because they set us up for new challenges, a new phase of our development , enabling us to shed what served us well up to now to embrace what will serve us well in the future. The time invested was recognised not just as an investment in the individual but also in the entire community to enable it to function in the way that maximised the development and contribution of the individual and ensured the community functioned at a level greater than the sum of the parts.

Are we taking an approach like this in our own organisations? An approach such as the one outlined creates an environment for all this to happen to ensure we maximise the new hire or promotion. It recognises the constant change within any organisation and offers a time to reflect, to check the individual and the company are on the right track; that actions, behaviours and values are aligned. It is a check point that provides tools for this evaluation. It keeps us aligned to the strategy and avoids any trips down cul de sacs. The time invested delivers huge benefits in retention, engagement and focus as well as customer satisfaction and improved revenue.

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