By Meg Mateer
“How can I make a difference?” “I don’t have enough power” “Our management only cares about the bottom line”. Sound familiar? For years as a corporate hippie, I grappled with these thoughts. Now, as a social impact consultant, I’m hearing similar struggles from my clients. I want to help those like me realise what I had missed - that it ís possible to make a difference from within: through organisational activism.
Tone at the top is a key part of making bigger organisational shifts happen, but that doesn’t mean that we have to wait for management to steward a cause we’re passionate about. After all, people from all different organisations are using their voice and action to make a difference. From employee protests at Google, Amazon and Microsoft against it’s employers unethical business and strategic decisions to Frances Haugen’s act to expose Facebook’s understanding of its impact on mental health for teenagers, to a mass exodus of Basecamp employees after they announced a company-wide ban on discussion topics, employees are taking action on ethical and social issues they care about.
These are examples of loud and very visible activism, but these changes can also be smaller. For example, a good friend of mine who works at a small advertising agency worked with her manager to expand their parental leave policy after getting pregnant herself. These and other bottom-up employee-led affinity and ambassador groups are providing organisational value that needs to be compensated.
So, if you’re ready to become an organisational activist. how can you start?
Clearly define what you care about - Away with quarterly financial metrics? A move towards a greener office? Flexible working policies? Embracing vulnerability at work? Sustainable business models? The most successful social impact projects we’ve seen result from a clear vision.
Framing is key - Sometimes a positive twist works better than naming the problem. Instead of calling out a non-inclusive organisation, how might we instead educate ourselves and learn to celebrate differences? A positive twist to an often perceived negative topic may be even more effective.
Start talking to people - In all of the projects we’ve worked with our clients on, major shifts begin with small conversations. Formalisation and strategic stakeholder mapping are also very important, but it’s the informal dialogues that keep people energised, connected and allow for unexpected insights to come to the surface.
Experiment with action - You can quickly build momentum around your cause with some quick wins. We encourage our clients to take an experimental mindset - testing what works and learning from what doesn’t. There is no one solution to shift organisations.
Think about your longer strategy by determining the best way to approach your efforts - do you want to advocate for what you want? Go under the radar and build a group of like-minds? Facilitate challenging conversations? Heal emotional wounds? Stanford outlines these four strategies for organisational activism.
I love helping changemakers shift organisations towards social impact, which is why I’m a consultant at Better Future. We work across industries and get social impact projects on our clients’ strategic agenda, building buy-in and ownership from the top with the power and ingenuity of passionate employees across the organisation. It’s never easy, and there is no one-size solution to our clients' challenges. But we work within the messiness, on a human level, to make epic shifts happen.