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?

Conversely, 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? Put another way, how important are the values, principles and standards established by your profession to you as you perform your role?

The Correlation Between Loyalty & Commitment

Answers to these two questions can certainly align. When that is the case, it usually translates to some semblance of job-related congruence. In other words, 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. For example, 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 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. Gouldner’s findings remain relevant today.


Understanding Gouldner’s Model

  • 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
  • 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.

Cosmopolitans and Locals In The Real World


One company worked with had a training department that went out of its way to alienate itself from the people it was 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. In a relatively short period of time, almost all of the business leaders responsible for those other departments 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 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.

They were fired because they failed 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. 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.


As learning professionals, we wonder a lot about the reason many of us don’t have “seats at the big table.” Quite often, the training budget is the first thing cut when budgets tighten. 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 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.

Where Your Loyalties Lay

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.


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?