Organizational Rōnin: “Wave” Men and WomenJune 7, 2021
During the feudal period of Japan, a rōnin was a samurai without a lord or master. Typically the samurai became a ronin due to the death of his master, or the fall from grace of his master.
The literal translation of rōnin is “wave man.”
The literal translation of ronin is “wave man.” It is an idiomatic expression for “vagrant” or “wandering man,” someone who is without a home or a leader.
Back when there was tangible job security, the Japanese work culture used this expression to describe a person between jobs or even a consultant or freelancer.
In today’s workplace, there are many kinds of organizational rōnin, and of course, the concept of people surviving various forms of organizational change at different stages, is gender neutral, situation and scenario-neutral.
Generally, with the exception of the public sector which still enjoys stable and long term employment, most people in the information economy have been, or will be, through a variety of nonlinear career changes, essentially giving them different and varied masters who come and go.
Rōnin During Times of Organizational Change
During postmerger integrations for example, employees of a legacy organization which was acquired, now may be working without the protective or paternalistic supervision of the former managers and/or owners who are now gone, casualties of the changes which typically begin at the time of closing of the transaction.
During times of organizational restructuring and turnaround, duplicative executive and managerial overhead often needs to be reduced, in order to reduce SG&A load and get the company into alignment with direct and indirect revenue producing operations.
In both of these cases, the net result can be employees who may have been previously “factionalized” prior to an executive leader’s role being eliminated, now being leaderless rōnin — essentially samurai without a master. Being “leaderless,” of course, exposes them; while in the modern organization, there are some professionals who may choose a modern-day workplace equivalent of seppoku, and be loyal to their prior master. This loyalty to a headless regime is tantamount to organizational, ritual suicide.
While rōnin are not necessarily mercinaries and their loyalty may exist in varying degrees, or not at all, they are always best served to be loyal to the goals of the organization moving forward — such as “going with the flow,” or “riding the wave” — and thus the “wave men and women” will ensure that they have clear relevance in the present.
If it is not meant to be, and there is no place for them in the new organization, they are well suited to be always recognized as professional and regarded for their loyalty to the mission at hand.
Of course, there are, for open minded leaders and owners of organizations, ample opportunity to steer the organization objectively to new benchmarks in opportunities through interim management.
A good interim “Rōnin” is always better than a weak leader.