Magazine article Workforce

It's a Good Time for Quiet Radicals

Magazine article Workforce

It's a Good Time for Quiet Radicals

Article excerpt

You know that classic philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it, did it really make a noise? Let's change it: If no one notices something you do, and it doesn't change the world, is it worth the effort?

No, and yes. No, most of us don't feel like it's worth it. And yes, it's not only worth it, it's the only way to get things done.

Stanford business professor Debra Meyerson spent much of the last decade studying what she calls "Tempered Radicals." In her new book by the same name (Harvard Business School Press, 2001), she found that many changes in management-work/life benefits in particular-were instituted by a new kind of workplace activist.

These are non-revolutionary people who work incrementally to create change. They do small things, in small steps-often deeds that go unnoticed and are against the norm. But their acts make big differences in the workplace.

One large consumer-products company had few women in senior management. HR facilitated brown-bag discussions among employees to discuss the problem. Senior managers, including the CEO, learned about cultural impediments to women's success in the organization, and worked to remove the obstacles.

Brown bags aren't revolutionary, nor is the idea of sharing information about a company's culture. But in this company, the informal conversations were small but significant steps toward change.

In another case, Western Financial was having trouble recruiting non-white employees. Senior vice president Sheila Johnson created a much bigger pool of candidates by launching a job-posting campaign in minority communities. It was the company's first outreach program of its kind.

How can you become a "tempered radical"? Here are some of my ideas:

* Use this down economy to invest in technology that your company, however techno-resistant, could use to cut costs in the long run. This could run the gamut of applicant-tracking systems, benefits-administration software, or e-learning.

* Point out to your CEO the negative potential of a proposed merger or acquisition before it's final. Or, recommend an acquisition candidate that has a similar corporate culture and values. Too often, a company's top brass finds out after a buyout is completed thatfrom a workforce standpoint-the match was a failed blind date between two incompatible organizations. …

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