Apathy, resignation and cynicism are the enemy of everything that is good and the friend of everything that is bad. When employees and managers come to believe that they can’t make a difference, the organization is doomed to mediocrity at best, and to failure at worst. Unfortunately, I see this take place on a regular basis. However, in my years of experience with client organizations – going back long before the rise of social media – I have also seen many examples of how a single person who is courageous and determined to effect change can start a movement.
Here’s one example: Many years ago, I worked with a woman who was a secretary in the finance division of a large, multi-national corporation. This woman’s rank in the organization was lowly, and she could easily have gone unnoticed. The company had been through a difficult series of downsizing measures. Morale was at an all-time low, customer satisfaction was suffering badly, and there were many issues inhibiting productivity. That year, the division was ordered to reduce its work force by 40 percent as part of an across-the-board cost-cutting measure. This was a devastating blow to the team.
The secretary volunteered to chair a team focused on taking care of the people being let go. She was determined to help everyone (who wanted assistance) find alternative jobs either inside the division or externally, thereby minimizing the morale issues. She enrolled a team of like-minded people and they all worked diligently, with great passion and courage, to pursue her mission. She and her team succeeded in securing jobs for a large percentage of the employees. That year, employee satisfaction rose significantly, and so did customer satisfaction. Most people attributed the remarkable outcome to this one woman’s leadership.
Although she had previously been perceived as a “nobody,” the woman became a widely recognized, admired, and respected leader. Her courage and commitment brought her influence, credibility, and status. She was later promoted, and when certain projects had to get done she was frequently invited to senior leadership team meetings because senior executives recognized her immense value and contribution to the organization’s advancement.
Twenty years ago, this kind of transformation required slow and painstaking efforts. Now, technology is transforming our ability to propagate change, and recent global events are the best illustration of this. We are all witnessing how social media and technologies that allow people to communicate easily over long distances are making profound changes in our society.
It may take less time, but it does not take any less courage to organize a movement through Facebook than it took to stand up and be counted in an organization where transformation required reaching one person at a time and convincing people one by one. That said, it is simpler today to make a difference in organizations because it is so much faster and easier to generate and facilitate a broad-based dialogue. But courageous leadership was taking transformation viral long before we had the technology to speed it up. If you ever feel that you cannot make a difference, remember this constant truth: The human spirit, courage, commitment, and determination are still the factors that drive all change.