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Mind the Gap - A generation of action (Part 4-4) creates workplace and employee activists

In this article we will look at the changes in society and in business that are influencing the workplace (part 1. and 2.) and we provide insights about what is needed to bridge the gap (part 3. and 4.);

Part 1. A generational gap and showing your true colours

Part 2. Business is becoming political and personal

Part 3. The missing elements

Part 4. A generation of action

Part 4. A generation of action

We see a new generation of co-workers that will be unstoppable when they act with radical candour. With the help of trainers and educators (and companies with an open mind), this new generation can be part of real change within companies. Soon, this generation will be active in all areas of the business: human resources, logistics and operations, production and procurement, product development and design, legal, innovation, sustainability, marketing and sales.

And even without an official mandate or an official project they feel they have a licence to operate. To become employee activists. Some of the reasons they feel in their rights to act are:

  • Signaling that impact matters, ensuring that enterprises move towards responsible business and require that companies share data on impact;

  • Engaging actively with industry norms and agreements, pointing to specialist sector expertise to improve performance, and highlighting the importance of impact data-analysis to drive impact management decision-making

  • Pointing out the urgency and aligning company policies to compliance rules, laws and industry norms;

  • Pointing to networks of experts to help with management team capacity building or strategy;

  • Using formal and informal networking to influence decision-making on social and environmental issue

  • Asking for a seat at the table, and direct access to the formal decision-making boards

  • Actively connecting their projects to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Demanding proof of future generation thinking and long-term goals

System change - agents changing the sYstem from within

According to Rachel Sinha “we don’t change the system, instead we cultivate the conditions that encourage a system to change itself. At the heart of systemic change is the assumption that it cannot be achieved alone. A systems change agent will be able to facilitate, build partnerships and create coalitions and seek to influence and engage wider audiences in the change.”

We see a shift where these skills become the basis of professional self-development.

This requires skills in empathy, being able to translate across sectors, cultures, and perspectives, building relationships and devising and facilitating workshops and events that support the change process. We also need to employ creative communications skills to influence and engage wider audiences in the change. This all needs to be underpinned by strong stakeholder and project management skills. Approaches drawn from methods such as communities of practice, deep democracy, collaborative action inquiry and action networks.”

We see an enormous need of new professional skills, especially in sustainability, needed to drive complex transformations in a politicised environment. These are essentially life skills and deal with; collaboration, conflict, systems thinking and anticipation.

Previously these self-awareness and personal development skills came on top of working-experience, expert knowledge, and professional skills. If you advanced through the ranks of your career, you were trained and needed them to come into management positions.

Education could be at the forefront of helping future employees to start movements in their companies and use their talents to turn their companies into a good citizens.

We see a shift where these skills become the basis of professional self-development. They will go from ‘soft’ skills to ‘impact’ skills. Nobody can work without them. They form the basis to - accessing and understanding - knowledge, developing a multi-focus perspective, and finding solutions that are acceptable for a multi-polar world.

Let’s start listening to this generation of changemakers and embolden and empower them to be successful in changing the business. By introducing them early-on in their careers to systems thinking, they can embrace complexity and become the creative and resilient leaders.

Education could be at the forefront of helping future employees to start movements in their companies and use their talents to turn their companies into a good citizen.

Author: Véronique Swinkels.

Co-founder, trainer and coach at the Undercover Activist.

* Sources for these articles included interviews conducted with workplace activists (2021-2023), conversations with participants of four cohorts of the online course Positive Workplace Activism (2022-2023) and research for a presentation and debate with INSEEC Paris and GEAB/LEAP on the importance of Future Thinking (2022).


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