“Hold your fire —
Keep it burning bright
Hold the flame
’til the dream ignites —
A spirit with a vision
Is a dream with a mission…”
—Neil Peart, Mission
It’s like every company meeting you’ve ever been in is a contemporary retelling of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Repetitive 20th century tragicomedies in continuous incremental acts. Painfully existential 30 to 60 to 90+ minutes blocks of time that makes you question why you’re there, along with the why of humanity and your very own soul.
You gather in conference rooms in pairs or teams, young and old, from diverse backgrounds and possibly a different country or three. More than likely somebody next to you is pretty new, whether co-worker or manager.
Some of you wait in the rooms, some of you on the conference phone lines, only to hear every other word during the meeting, if you’re lucky, with no video conferencing in sight.
Maybe there’s a formal agenda. Or a poorly written e-mail resent so many times you’re not sure which version you’re supposed to be referencing. Or there’s someone’s notes that loosely resembles one of your mother’s crumpled undecipherable to-do lists from childhood.
The leader, whoever that is at whatever level, arrives 5 to 10 minutes late, as always. He or she then opens up with an unrelated anecdote, interrupting those of you discussing what you did over the weekend, or the night before.
Stuff is discussed. Progress reviewed. Deliverables assigned. Subordinates undermined. Contradictions intertwined. Yet another reorg announced. A new CEO coming on board. Another round of investment coming in if your founders agree to switch from making X’s to making Y’s. And now you know you’ll have to work late every single night for the next three weeks.
You all adjourn to meet again a week or so later to find out that not much if anything had moved. Then you’ll have to relive it all while defending yourself during your annual performance review.
Let’s go; everything changes; nobody moves. The old “Godot” standard.
This isn’t all fair, I know. There are many companies and business leaders who rise above the painful ambiguity and actually get stuff done. But it’s still a top-down hierarchical hailstorm of old-school motivation, engagement and productivity. Even in global multi-national companies where progress is glacial until a dramatic upheaval of some kind, and where employees and leaders come and go, the world creates, innovates and moves products and services.
And now that Millennials are pretty much the majority of the workforce today, they’re aspiring for something different than the status quo, and inspiring in every generation something more. Weber Shandwick, in partnership with KRC Research, recently released Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism. First, they remind us that more than 8 in 10 employees (84%) have experienced some kind of employer change in the past few years — most typically a leadership change (45%). And only 3 of 10 employees are deeply engaged with their employers (we’ve heard that over and over again, haven’t we?).
Activism isn’t new, but employee activism as explained in the above research and discussed with Jon Mertz and Danny Rubin on the TalentCulture #TChat Show is gaining traction. Every new generation pokes and prods at the status quo and thank goodness for that.
Employee engagement is the old Godot standard. However, employee activism today takes a more elevated mindset and initiates and executes positive actions with usually little to no negative reactions. This extends from leadership to human resources to front-line employees and all communication points in between. This workplace activism embraces a greater calling for businesses today, think corporate social responsibility, yet still drives new revenue growth, new customers, new products, better relationships in the workplace with leadership and employees.
Let’s go; everything changes; everybody moves and makes magic and a living. The new activist standard.
So leadership today please take note from the workforce majority: focus on the people first. Not just the other stuff that’s just about growth and return at the expense of people. Now more than ever many of us both young and old want employee well-being, employee growth and development, and a higher sense of purpose for the work we choose to do and the employee we choose to do it with. This all underscored by Deloitte’s fourth annual Millennial Survey.
We all long for flexibility and fun and greater purpose, but work is actually really hard at times, and it will be stressful and mind-numbing and even a little soul-sucking, especially when we’re working in a job that’s maybe not so higher purpose because we need the work. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again a thousand times – making a living plus an elevated mindset is all hard work.
We all still aspire to do the things we love to do for a higher purpose. And when these opportunities present themselves (and hopefully more businesses are helping present them), the power grid switch from passive to active flips on and every point in the pre-hire and post-hire experience lights us up like a summer county fair.
Because if we can, we all must rise above that waiting for Godot workplace standard to do the same. That’s the part when we wink and smile and hold our fires burning bright.
I’m again excited to announce that I’ve joined the Talent Board, the organization behind the Candidate Experience Awards. I will help lead and further their mission of benchmarking and elevating the candidate experience and recruiting performance, from the first job post to the final onboarding and beyond in North America and around the world. Join us and the 2015 CandE Winners at the 2nd Annual Candidate Experience Symposium September 30 – October 2 in Fort Worth, TX. Connect with me to learn more.