- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

Obama’s farewell speech has calls to actions relevant to organizations. Most can be summarised: take charge, get involved.

Obama’s farewell speech [1] contains enough reflective materials, statements and arguments to spend hours of learning, no matter where you are in the political spectrum.

There are dozens of paragraphs that have made me think. Here is one the epitomizes the philosophy of activism that we embrace in our Viral Change™ programmes, our true social movements in the organization:

If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America – and in Americans – will be confirmed.

Translation: get involved, act. After all, the word activism contains the word act.

It is the right time in the world for employee activism. But I must qualify the term, since it is used in multiple ways, not all logic.

Recently, employee activism has meant employees acting as brand advocates in the outside world. This is how it is portrayed in a rather grandiose way in the report ‘Employee Activism: The Next Frontier of Employee Engagement’, by the agency Weber Shandwick. I think this is a simplistic appropriation of the word ‘activism’ making employee engagement un-stuck, more up and coming, renewed, promising  and at its next development.

My concept of employee activism is this: employees engaged, taking charge of grey areas, working in peer-to-peer networks, driving bottom up activities, close to self management in many cases, and, yes, doing, intervening, fixing, building and changing whatever needs to be. And, by the way, none of this in a job description. These are true activists in pay roll. Exclude the following: whinging, voicing problems with no intention of driving solutions, and (over) analysing without action. Act 1, voicing nil.

It is the ‘grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself’ version in the organization. When this is happening, it is dynamite.

You can’t pay enough for this, fabricate it or train it. It is completely behavioural and, as such, is copied by others and scaled up following Viral Change™ principles [2].

For me, ‘employee voice’ is decaffeinated engagement. And ‘voice’ is what many employee engagement initiatives seek. Engagement is agency, action, spontaneous pull of colleagues, or it isn’t. ‘Engagement’ is a cultural proxy for action, not emotional expressions in survey.

I believe we have only scratched the surface of true employee activism. We may see an epidemic of bottom up challenges to the top, to management, to purpose,  something  today unthinkable within the civilized  borders of the firm. But we are seeing lots of one unthinkable things around.