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December 13, 2013
Cosmopolitans and Locals: Examining Where Your Loyalty Lies

On a scale of 1-10, how loyal would you say you are to the organization you work for? And yes, we understand; loyalty is kind of a complicated thing. So, don’t kill yourself trying to achieve some ideal state of irrefutable objectivity. Apply “critical subjective thought” and pick a number.

Conversely (and using the same scale), how committed would you say you are to your craft? For instance, regardless of the organization you happen to be working for currently, how devoted are you to your particular vocation (i.e., lawyer; doctor; learning professional, etc.)? Put another way, how important are the values, principles and standards established by your profession to you as you perform your role? Answers to these two questions can certainly align (i.e., high scores on both loyalty and commitment scales). When that is the case, it usually translates to some semblance of job-related congruence (i.e., you like what you do and you like where you have the opportunity to do it). On the other hand, ratings for those two questions can also reflect distinct differences (i.e., you love where you work, but really have no affiliation whatsoever to your professional community). This lack of alignment usually translates to some degree of job-related dissonance. The interplay between these two orientations (identification with the organization you work for compared to the profession you belong to) has been the subject of extended research over the years. The first study on record was conducted in the late 1950s by a prominent industrial psychologist named Alvin Gouldner. From our perspective, Gouldner’s findings have sincere contemporary relevance. In that regard, we offer the following graphic as a job aid of sorts intended to provide additional context. And, after all, what would a training blog be without at least one four-box model as a point of reference??!! *Click each quadrant to see a detailed description of Gouldner’s findings.
For those unable to interact with the graphic, allow us to summarize Gouldner’s findings:
  • Placement in the upper right-hand quadrant implies that you like where you work and, in all probability, the work you do is valued by the organization for which you work
  • If you fall in the lower right-hand quadrant, Gouldner refers to you as a “Local,” meaning that you more readily identify with the organization you work for than the profession to which you belong
  • Gouldner labels those who fall in the upper left-hand quadrant as “Cosmopolitans.” These individuals are highly dedicated to their profession but prefer to have limited affiliation with their employer
So, how do the dynamics of Cosmopolitans and Locals manifest themselves in the world of professional training? Consider the following:
  1. “TRAINING ELITISTS” as Cosmopolitans: We worked with a company a few years back that had a training department that went well out of their way to alienate themselves from the people they were responsible to support. They were “learning professionals,” and they made sure everybody within earshot knew just what a big deal that was. They had impressive degrees from impressive institutions. But, there was no mistaking the intentional distance they put between themselves and the targeted consumers of the training they had been hired to produce (i.e., sales, marketing, manufacturing and other functional arms of the business). And, in a relatively short period of time, almost all of the business leaders responsible for those functional areas viewed the training department with varying levels of disdain.
    Conversely those same individuals were openly admired by the training community. Seeing them with their professional peers at a conference was like seeing different people. They networked, engaged and collaborated. And, not surprisingly, the training they produced was recognized at several of these conferences as “what good looks like” examples of industry-standard design. They won awards. They spoke and sat on panels at these conferences. Several of them wound up publishing papers and writing books on training design. And then, they were fired.
    And, they were fired because they failed miserably at implementing the programs they designed and developed. When voters lose faith in government because they feel politicians are “out of touch,” they refuse to go to the polls (i.e., approximately 55% of eligible voters participated in the 2012 presidential election). When the functional leaders in organizations lose faith in the training department because it is out of touch, they react by preventing or discouraging people on their teams from participating in training as opposed to encouraging or requiring them to engage.
  2. The “WHAT CAN YOU DO IN TWO HOURS?” mindset as a Local: As learning professionals, we wonder a lot about the reason many of us don’t have “seats at the big table.” Quite often, our status is solidified as the training budget is the first thing cut when “belts need to be tightened” for one reason or another. Ironically, our relative lack of status is frequently tied to our attempts to put our company loyalty on display and, usually, we have no one to blame for that but ourselves. We are all familiar with Kirkpatrick’s model. Most of us are also well-versed in the “time and role relationships” associated with training transfer brought to us by Broad & Newstrom. To that end, we know what it takes to produce learning that adds measurable value in a manner that will provide us with the opportunity to be taken seriously. Yet, all too often we consciously turn our backs on the standards and values of our profession as a mechanism of demonstrating responsiveness, placing our credibility at unnecessary risk.
Now, as you no doubt noticed, there was one area of our four-box model that went unlabeled. The lower left region is reserved for those that see themselves as having neither a strong amount of commitment to their profession nor loyalty to their organization. In all likelihood, these individuals can be found spending large chunks of time in the basements of their parent’s homes, playing video games, with a super-sized caffeinated beverage close by. Bottom line, commitment to your profession and loyalty to your organization are by no means mutually exclusive. By the same token, when either is accentuated at the expense of the other, bad things can happen!! In general, the more expertise you develop professionally, the higher the probability you will be seen as having the potential to add value to your organization. And, this (unless of course you are in your parent’s basement with a Big Gulp and a remote controller) is why you joined an organization in the first place!!


Reflect on a time when your loyalty to your organization was in conflict with the standards of your profession:

  • How did that conflict present itself? (i.e., Who was involved? What were the relevant circumstances, etc.?)
  • How was that conflict resolved?
  • In retrospect, what would you/could you have done differently?
  • How can you apply what you learned from that situation to help you more effectively manage similar conflicts in the future?
Placement in this quadrant suggests that you currently see yourself operating in a relatively congruent set of circumstances. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have landed your dream job and that things are perfect. It simply means you like where you work and, in all probability, the work you do is valued by the organization you work for. Stated a different way, compared to the other configurations represented, you don’t feel you need to compromise the standards of your profession to align with the requirements of your job.
Gouldner labels individuals in this quadrant as “Locals.” With Locals, allegiance to the organization is the prime driver of decision making and referent group orientation. These are the lawyers, doctors, engineers, HR and learning professionals that more readily identify with the organization they work for than the profession to which they belong. Does that suggest company loyalty is a bad thing? In a word, no. But, as we have seen all too often over the years, taken to an extreme, it can be. One of the original examples Gouldner used to describe the orientation of Locals were board certified medical physicians, who were employed as internal research experts by tobacco companies, that openly refuted the correlation between individuals smoking tobacco and contracting any number of lung-related diseases. Outside of providing a compelling storyline for a number of highly rated ‘60 Minutes’ interviews, employees like the tobacco company physicians fueled the gestation and subsequent prominence of modern day Compliance Departments. In large part the role of the modern day Compliance Function is to proactively and conservatively apply accepted standards of professional protocol to the research, production and promotional practices of organizations across industry.
Gouldner refers to individuals placed in this quadrant as “Cosmopolitans.” Cosmopolitans are earnestly dedicated to their profession and are driven by acceptance and recognition from those within that profession that they hold in high regard. At the extreme, they have comparatively limited regard for the priorities of their organization or constituency. Consider if you will The United States Congress. They are elected based on proclamations they make during their campaigns to effectively represent, govern, and lead. They make promise after promise to demonstrate loyalty and deliver results. And, if nothing else, it is an interesting time in history to assess Congressional performance in the context of Gouldner’s parameters, and draw inferences based on that review. According to the most recent Gallup Poll on the topic, Congress currently has an approval rating of 9%. In the “for what it is worth” category, that is the first time that rating has been reported with a single digit. For many, Congress has become an appalling example of an elitist club. It would also appear that most in that legislative body have proven to be far more dedicated to maintaining their club status (i.e. getting re-elected) than they are to solving the problems they were elected to solve. And what do the Cosmopolitans in Washington have in common with the Cosmopolitans in most organizations? The more Cosmopolitans are perceived to be committed to their profession, the less loyalty members of their organization/constituency come to expect.
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