Citizenship – what is it?

A year ago, I was asked to run a change project using the – ‘Citizenship Model’. “The what?” you ask. I had the same question…..and here’s what I’ve learned
For a start I consulted friends, colleagues and books to understand more about the concept. The great and the good basically said that, given the right direction, motivation and reward a community will do what’s best for the whole and not the individual, as the members of the community (or Citizens) will self-police. (This isn’t quite what Hudson talked about in his 1999 paper which was focused on the relationship between managers and staff but it’s an interesting paper to read.)

Pub anyone?

This method of leadership was encapsulated for me in the following hypothetical situation: if a group of friends go to the pub each Friday, and each Friday a member of the group fails to buy a round, eventually that friend will stop being invited (and presumably stop being a friend).
Okay, but what does that really mean? In the workplace, ostracising someone who doesn’t conform to the group’s values could be perceived as bullying – and that’s certainly not acceptable.
About 4 months in to this project I was asked to speak at a Change Forum about my experiences working with this Model, among other things. A usual turnout of 15-20 soon became more than 40. Was this because of this new way of working, or just a coincidence that everyone was free that night? I’m not sure I’d have said yes if I’d known that many people would be staring at me around the table that evening.
Anyway, stare they did. And listened as I explained the theory of Citizenship as I saw it then. And the feedback was great. ……But back at the office the reality was not as the theory should suggest.

Is the business really ready?

For a start the business in which I was working had not defined my project as a priority. They also felt that allocating staff on a full-time basis to the project wasn’t the way to go. So instead colleagues were begged, stolen and borrowed from their day jobs to attend workshops and meetings to establish the processes we’d be using in the future.
And there lay the main problem. How do colleagues faced with limited time prioritise a project that’s not even on their objectives over something that is? Well, you don’t and as such getting the required support was difficult at best.
That’s not to say that a lot of progress wasn’t made. It was. Those individuals that bought in to the vision of what we were trying to achieve moved heaven and earth to make themselves available, even if this meant compromising their personal objectives. If only the senior leadership team had bought in the same way.

Strategy, Accountability and Performance Management

Ultimately, the conclusion I have reached is that, in order for Citizenship to work, three things need to be in place, so that it’s not just anarchy or ‘Lord of the Flies’:

Defined, Agreed and Shared Strategy

This needs to be lived, breathed and talked about from the top down so, no matter what people are working on, they know how it fits in to the organisations overall objectives. This means, should the need arise to prioritise, there is no doubt what can and can’t be dropped.

Accountability and Responsibility

Every person in the organisation and on the project should know what they are accountable for or where that accountability lies so decision making is clear and quick.

Performance Management

Colleagues must know that if they don’t act in the interests of the community that there are consequences. Having a culture in an organisation that ensures that good and bad performance are recognised accordingly will empower the community to drive better performance.


So, it’s been a steep learning curve and this way of working didn’t (work that is) in the example project but I truly believe that it can work.
For instance, take an IT helpdesk as an example. Why not do away with team leaders, who are basically there to manage performance, targets and time off. Instead, trust the community of anaylsts to manage themselves knowing:

Then they’ll be able to:

This is one example but could be used to motivate a sales team focusing on team rather than individual targets and incentives or to motivate members of an organisation to embrace, contribute to and lead change.