The second group, generally 95 percent or more of the organization, consists of “transactional” employees — people who are contracting, in good faith, to provide a service for the organization. They feel they’re being treated as commodities because they are, in effect, commodities. They may not be replaceable, but the organization feels that they are. This sounds like a harsh assessment of organizations, but it’s not as bad as it sounds; you can have a tremendous, highly fulfilling career as a transactional employee, as long as you don’t get confused about your status. (There’s nothing as debilitating as “Core Group envy.”)
The Core Group in most organizations defines the status quo. Even when the Core Group members tell people to be innovative and proactive, the rest of the organization will hear a different intent: Keep things steady and comfortable. The big challenge for non–Core Group members like Frederick is not to protest against the Core Group’s existence, but to become more constructively conscious of its influence and its values. Had Frederick been more conscious of the Core Group when his new team approach was approved, he would have realized that he didn’t have the support he needed to make it work. All around him, people were assuming that, when push came to shove, the Core Group would reject it. Believing that, his supervisor naturally felt compelled to alter Frederick’s plans, if only to save Frederick from an even ruder awakening in the future.
Unfortunately, when the supervisor intervened, however innocent or deliberate his intentions, he ended up not just stirring Frederick to leave the company, but also crippling the project. It ultimately came in extremely late, way over budget, and enmeshed in a lawsuit with a supplier, to boot. Had Frederick stayed on the scene, he might have prevented all that.
Imagine that you are someone in Frederick’s position, someone who sees a new way of operating or a new strategy and yearns to make it work in your company. You recognize that the organization, simply by its nature, cares more about the perceived priorities of the Core Group than it does about committed, creative people like you. At first glance, the circumstances might seem to call for cynicism; in the working world, you might think, idealists “like me” will always come to nothing.
How, then, can you gain any leverage at all? There is a way, which can be highly liberating. It allows people at every level of an organization to act with integrity and intelligence to pursue what they most want and what they believe is best for the organization. You must build your organizational equity — a kind of equity that you can create yourself, that increases your influence in your organization, and that helps you fulfill your own dreams.
You may ordinarily think of equity as the assets, transformed into stock, that shareholders own. This is, of course, a valuable form of equity for employees — whether purchased through options, awarded in grants, or bought through 401(k)-style investments. Paradoxically, this asset’s greatest value comes before it’s cashed in: as a visible sign of your commitment to the performance of the whole. It aligns your fate and the company’s fate in a tangible way. But if it’s the only form of equity you own, as many employee–shareholders have seen in the past two years, it makes you all too vulnerable.
In the end, the conventional definition of equity is far too narrow. It’s better defined as any share of accumulated wealth, including such intangible forms of “social capital” as relationships and reputation. There are dozens of types of equity that an individual can accumulate, including these: