scrabble change

Why embracing employee activism can help deliver net zero*

*and other issues.

In the space of just a couple of years, many corporate CEOs have gone from deriding youth activists as hysterical to declaring they’ve found their inner Greta. 

At the same time, they remain super wary of the growing numbers of employee activists, even though many of those colleagues have been on a similar journey. We are all humans after all.  

This wariness is understandable, but it’s wrong. By not embracing employee activists, business leaders are missing out on a huge opportunity to help make change happen.

Tension arises because, while CEOs have changed the story they want to tell about themselves, their organisation’s story of change is stuck. Usually at the stage of making promises and pledges about a net zero commitment, but failing to deliver enough. Employees see this and speak up. 

The narrative that often and quickly emerges about these employees is that they’re making a challenging problem harder. They’re an irritant, an obstacle and a threat if their discontent spreads. 

But imagine a scenario where this narrative was flipped. 

  • The business needs radical transformation – who better to work with to find new ideas than the people who know how the company really works and are desperate for it to do better?
  • The business needs to catalyse shifts in beliefs, attitudes and behaviours, an essential and often the hardest part of change strategies – who better to inspire customers, suppliers and colleagues to adopt new norms, than front line or back office employees with relationships and influence?
  • The business needs to act with urgency – who better to drive change than the people that don’t need convincing about what’s at stake and a narrowing window?

We’ve seen first hand, leaders mostly using employee activists to carry the burden of climate education within the organisation. What a waste. They should be mobilised at the forefront of innovation. Their emotional, physical and mental energies unleashed on making business better.  

What happens if you don’t? 

Yes, employees will leave. But plenty will stay and the danger for the business is the paralysing impact of shame, researched and described by Brené Brown, making transformation will become even harder to achieve. 

The good news is that employee activists groups are going in number. That’s a huge untapped opportunity for innovation and transformation. We need business leaders to be brave and find new ways to engage them. Isn’t that what leadership is about?

So start today by changing your story to one where you go further and faster thanks to your employee activists. 

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