2017: Workers' Revolt in Sight?

I Am A Man (#RayGun81 Remix). Mural by     Marcellous Lovelace    honoring the    Sanitation Workers March    in Memphis. Pic by    Mike Harding

I Am A Man (#RayGun81 Remix). Mural by Marcellous Lovelace honoring the Sanitation Workers March in Memphis. Pic by Mike Harding

Two steps forward, one step back. 2017 is likely to be another year of tango for progress in organizations, with internal change agents leading the dance. But the future may also be bleaker.

Big organizations have become entangled by bureaucracy and internal competition. As Euan Semple writes: “Sadly, in our brave new technologically enabled world, office politics would appear to survive the removal of the office...

Territorial thinking is the norm, network thinking the exception. How many times have you seen an executive say: “what my colleague does is great, I really want to contribute / do the same in my department”? Not very often, in my experience. We keep loving our ideas more than others’. We feel threatened by great initiatives popping up from other departments. Change is good as long as it impacts others, not ourselves, and we repeat the same mistake over and over of deciding things for people rather than involving them before decisions are made. Because we gotta go fast and deliver quickly.

This actually slows down organizations, suffocates their innovation capacities, sabotages their execution capabilities, and saps people’s morale. Let’s not be surprised if workers’ revolt erupts someday, along recently seen voters’ revolt pattern: people voting against their own interest, “just to get rid of an out-of-touch establishment”. “Welcome to the age of anger”, Penkaj Mishra writes. Why would corporations stay immune from this phenomenon? “Is corporate life shielded in the Era of the Unpredictable?” asks Leandro Herrero. As long as an all-white, all-men, same background, same social class, same consultant experience, well-off “elite” believes they have the answers for everyone else, and manages the business in a territorial fashion, with a focus on control and little interest in lower rank workers, we’re doomed. In a way, workers’ protest has already started, either literally – see the Market Basket revolt – or through skyrocketing disengagement and burnouts.

Note to Information Technology departments: it doesn’t matter what social collaboration technology you select (having forgotten to involve users, most of the time). Technology doesn’t make people collaborate. What does? A common purpose, an authentic interest in people, diversity embedded in everything the organization does, a network mindset, up and down the hierarchy, a new breed of leaders. Corporate sanity.

Cheer up, change agents. The corporate world still needs you very much in 2017.


This post was originally published on Marginalia, the Future of Work Magazine