Do we need a revolution?

As a French national, the notion of revolution is something you get familiar with at a
very early stage in your life. A running joke is that in order to solve a problem, French people first argue or fight or strike (all at once sometimes) then talk and reach a compromise. The rest of the world do pretty much the other way around. When looking at ways to increase employee engagement, it seems that a revolution is needed. Thinkers, professors, consultants talked about “liberated companies”, “Rebels at work” or “Big Bang transformation”. It should please my French side 😃 However. it does not completely, and let me tell you why.

Engagement State of Affairs

One argument often used by proponents of a revolution is the catastrophic level of engagement in organizations. The percentage of actively engaged people is anywhere between 10% and 20% worldwide. Even worse, if we look at what is needed to increase this engagement, we know the building blocks for a while now.  Self determination theory argues for competence, relatedness and autonomy. Dan Pink for purpose, mastery and autonomy.  Julian Birkinshaw for emergence, intrinsic motivation, obliquity and collective wisdom. Frederic Laloux for purpose, wholeness and autonomy. There are variations in all these concepts but overall they are complementary to each other or building on each other. So bottom line, most of employees are disengaged. We know for a while how this engagement could increase. But it is not happening at scale. So we need a revolution to change that. Full stop.

Evolution not Revolution

To increase employee engagement, organizations and management should certainly change. And here we are talking about human evolution. About changes in behaviours and mindsets. That eventually will lead to changes in processes and routines in organizations. But one has only to look at Nature to understand that a revolution is not the most likely way forward. Human development is evolutive by design not done via succession of revolutions. It is done via small, slow changes that make us more suitable to our environment. You can accelerate evolution but you cannot leapfrog here. Yet, what I read or see is often very drastic (e.g., Zappos fires all its managers). And with a semantic which implies that we have to burn the place down first and rebuild. “Liberated companies” for instance definitely makes me thing of the liberation of occupied countries after the second world war. No slow yet durable evolution here!

Imagine the Alternative

So what do you need revolution and rebels for then? To always remind us that another way is possible.  Their creativity and enthusiasm for change are contagious. And often I think it is merely a marketing archetype. What the rebels advocate is much more subtile than a revolution. I often read the blog of the corporate rebels. With the tone definitely towards rebellion, I do get inspired by what could be possible. And, when it comes to implementation, they also favor experimentations which is more in line with an evolution than a revolution. But eventually we will have to use less this revolution lexicon. It is good to set ambitious points in the horizon, but it is not the best way to embrace everybody in evolution. My French uprising taught me this. In a revolution, there are always two sides and one loses.
In a revolution, there are always two sides and one loses.

Understand Evolution

To get to this new stage of implementation, we will have to understand more how evolution is happening and how it can be stimulated in organizations. Thinkers like Leandro Herrero who looks at viral change. Which includes the connection between informal networks, champions, stories and experimentations. Or Thijs Homan on understanding clouds of meaning and off stage behaviours to stimulate changes. I do think this is where novel insights are appearing. We know the main challenge, we mostly know the solutions. What we have to figure out is how to support and stimulate evolution in organizations.

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