What do you think about loyalty and how would you describe its essence and therefore value?
I am asked, quite regularly, what I think about loyalty and what would I do to engender it within an organisation and find myself uncharacteristically without an opinion that I can commit to.
For this reason, I decided to gather some thoughts together and open up a debate around the subject.
It seems that, in the commercial setting, loyalty has become a ‘Cinderella’ ethic, we hope it is present working away quietly in the background even though little attention is paid to it and we hope that it is in some way producing value. In this minimalistic sense, some amount of loyalty is expected without any investment being applied.
Let’s look back and allow some history to inform the subject.
The Swiss Guard were a group of mercenary soldiers available for hire by any and most European nations from the 16th century well into the 19th century and still form the ceremonial guard at the Vatican. During the French Revolution, when the mob stormed the Bastille and attacked the Tuileries Palace, the Swiss guard remained loyal to the last and was massacred on August 10, 1792, dying to protect Louis XVI even though (presumably unbeknown to the guards) the king had already fled.
What could possibly generate so much Swiss loyalty to a foreign King that they laid down their lives for it? The answer to this tells us a good deal about loyalty.
- The Swiss guard were mercenaries, hired hands, and fought for money. They were the highest paid among soldiers because they were very, very good at winning battles. If you paid them they fought for you.
- They were good because that was all they did. As full time professionals they developed their own superior disciplines, techniques and training. They considered themselves superior in every way to the common soldier who was mainly conscripted from peasant farming stock, had little training and was paid poorly.
- They were proud of their professional ethos, their reputation and standing within their chosen communities and were feared and revered by their enemies.
- They had a strong sense of belonging. Many of the guard were second and third generation members, fathers and sons sometimes fought together in the same cohorts. This strong sense of belonging drove individual commitment to the group.
So, the extraordinary display of loyalty in the Tuileries can be explored and understood as a few simple human motivations, I’ll match them to the list above:
- They got a pay check
- They were good, and therefore in demand, and therefore mobile and so, better pay them well
- They were proud of themselves, loyal to their code and would not behave in a way that contradicts that code
- When an individual joined the guard they were met by a strong sense of belonging. This was encouraged by the group
We can look at this list of four points and understand quickly how it relates to modern business and other non-profit ventures.
Points one and two are quickly taken care of by our normal pay scales commensurate with the job and competitive with the demand. This leaves us with points three and four.
Point three – People are loyal to themselves, their interests, their families, their lifestyles and their personal belief systems – for proof of this look no further than the Brexit debate. If you want your people to display loyalty to you then you could strive to understand their core loyalties and map them to your business environment.
Point four – It is my conclusion that this point may be the crucial and pivotal point that determines loyalty. The most brief consideration of the flip side of belonging will make the argument, since, if people feel they do not belong then it seems to me impossible that loyalty can be expected. Conversely, loyalty may grow in an environment where people have a strong sense of belonging.
I am interested in starting a debate around this subject and welcome your thoughts and especially examples more recent and different from the one above.
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