Earlier this month, an article on the ABC called out for knitters to knit jumpers for penguins affected by oil spills.
Five days later, the Guardian posts another article, “Lay Down Your Needles, Knitters Are Covered For The Time Being” and stops the world in our penguin knitting frenzy.
How did the world go so crazy with these penguins?
…Through networks via social media….
Let’s look at what an action of publishing one simple tweet with a cute picture of a penguin created within 5 days:
- As soon as I received the tweet, I read the article, exclaimed adoration and immediately downloaded the knitting pattern
- I fished through (pardon the pun) my yarn basket and picked out an array of 8 ply Bendigo Wool – it’s about quality and local products for our little friends
- I started knitting and finished off my first penguin jumper and tweeted the photo
- I posted the original article and photo on Yammer which then….
- Inspired a newly created Knitter Group to take this on as a group project
- I also shared the article and photo on Facebook
- The Facebook post didn’t generate much discussion (many of my friends don’t knit but there were exclamation of ‘how cute’ etc. Others shared the post to their network; two people asked me to teach them how to knit so that they can make these jumpers. Later on, I got requests to not knit penguin jumpers but knit some minions like this photo instead…)
- The Yammer post in the Knitters Group generated discussion and we decided a knitting meetup was in order for Friday lunchtimes at the office cafe to knit penguin jumpers
- Four people arrived to our first meetup (one of whom was a complete beginner and who came along to learn how to knit).
- While at the meetup, one of the young grads told us for a hobby, she buys old knitting machines, refurbishes them and sells them. (These knitting machines aren’t made anymore). She then talked about how she hacked one of these old machines with her laptop and iPad so that it could make pattern designs of her own choice. Her exact words were, “the makers of these knitting machines die off and take their knowledge with them so I had to do something to make this machine work the way I wanted it to”. Respect.
- I was so impressed with this young grad hacking a knitting machine with an iPad that I went back to my office desk and tweeted my awe
- Meanwhile I had lost track as to how many tweets pinged me (my network obviously knows I knit)
- I knitted the second and third jumpers subsequently
- Our small knitting group on Yammer grew to 14 members
- Some members of my Twitter network joked about footy, penguins and knitting
Meanwhile, this got me thinking of all the action, discussion and networks that one tweet created. If this just happened in one place, imagine the activity AROUND AUSTRALIA AND THE WORLD created out of the one article.
Con Sotidis (@LearnKotch) sent this wonderful article by Alice McGovern “Crafting for Good: Why We All Want to Knit for Penguins” where she explained the craft was a form of activism or “craftism”.
Hello, this was news for me. I looked down at my circular knitting needles. Were these the new weapons?
No, it was networks.
The Rise of Employee Activism
This got me thinking if crafters are using social media to create and inspire change – what are employees doing? Or is this the reason why organisations implement tight social media controls – not only to preserve the privacy and security of the organisation but also to prevent their people from affecting the organisational brand and reputation negatively?
Is it about the lack of trust in their own people?
A recent Gallup study showed that over 70% of Australians are disengaged with their work – and only 19% of managers and executives displayed interest in their job. These figures are mind boggling but not surprising. I’m sure we all know people in our workplaces who are just biding time – I know, I was one of them.
After so many redundancies, countless restructures, constant change you start to become immune to it. You start a project with good intentions only to have multiple stakeholders join and leave the project, competing interests, changing priorities. Projects are delayed or halted. You cannot even finish a project you started before it goes on the ‘back burner’ so in the end, you question “well, what’s the point of it all?” and “why am I even doing this if no one really cares what the end product will look like or what it will achieve and oh, what problem are we solving?”
You attend meetings with your cohorts and notice that decisions aren’t made because it means letting go of authority. No one admits they don’t have the answers. Fear of change, loss of control and risking the status quo is not spoken about but there’s an underlying unspoken feelings there.
You assume the control is out of your hands because you’re just the little penguin in a raft of other penguins. You just have to follow and keep up with the colony.
You don’t know the wider organisational environment, you don’t know the business strategy and everyone’s role keeps changing in the process. One day you’re managing a team, the next you’re not. One day you are seconded to a project, the next you are moved into another department. One day, you’re set adrift because they don’t need your services anymore.
Worse still, no one listened to your concerns. No one asked about how you’re feeling about it all. After all, isn’t that what you’re meant to do? Follow the pack. Comply.
But what are you complying with when there’s no clarity or purpose?
It’s so easy to sit back and just follow orders because that’s what we’ve been trained to do. And it’s costing our economy up to $54 billion because of the effects that it creates around absenteeism, lower productivity and error rates.
It’s time to act responsible and speak up. It’s time to take some action ourselves after all, we got ourselves into this mess. We are just as much to blame.
If this makes us “activists” – then so be it.
(Personally I don’t like the word ‘activism’ nor words like ‘rebels’, ‘hackers’ and ‘manifestos’ that are popping up on the internet as it denotes we are fighting a monolithic giant and standing defiantly against what it stands for. It tends to create a ‘them’ and ‘us’ approach when we should collectively see it as an opportunity to involve and re-engage ourselves in our work).
If anything we need to shake ourselves off our own apathy.
Let’s imagine for one moment, an organisation that trusted its people.
An organisation that knew that its people had lives outside work, family and friends connected with their products and services. People who use social tools to promote, connect and relate to others and who may even be customers and shareholders themselves. People who all had different interests, skills, knowledge, hobbies, passions and creative pursuits – all untapped potential to think of solutions to complex organisational problems.
People who weren’t just recruited to do the tasks and responsibilities within the strict confines of their job description.
I experienced something similar this week.
My Performance Review: Only Half the Picture
It’s performance review time at our organisation. I sent out a request for feedback to internal clients, stakeholders and colleagues whom I worked with in the last year on my learning projects but I quickly realised that I had an entire Yammer network of people I had also worked with on smaller business-wide projects outside of my current role. They had to be factored into my performance review or else my manager only got half the picture.
I know that there are others like me in that same position where their managers aren’t using the social networking platform and missing out on an entirely different perspective of what knowledge, skills and attributes their team members are offering or even, how connected and networked their team members are to other parts of their own organisation!
Out of the eight projects, two were directly part of my role – the other six all were projects, alliances and co-operations with other parts of the business centred around social networking coaching; teaching our small business customers how to use social media for their own business; working with external vendors to introduce social networking tools into other parts of the business; and bringing in social media coaches to run masterclasses for our employees.
All this work was done because I have a passion in social networking and collaborative communities. It was work done outside of HR and L&D. I used Yammer to directly connect with other parts of the business who needed my skills to coach them in social networking and tools. I did not wait for the “orders” to come to me from my L&D managers or department. I felt empowered. For once, I felt that I was taking charge of my work and delivering value to others.
But something else was also happening – I was becoming an advocate, a spokesperson for the organisation. I was beginning to see everyone’s part in this big organisation and excited to work with inspired and enthusiastic individuals and represent the organisation in front of our customers. I felt proud to be working for an organisation that allowed me the freedom to explore my passion, allow me the opportunity to work flexibly and gave me a voice through a social networking platform.
My peers who also shared similar journeys as me were the same. There was real pride in their work where they felt that they were making a difference by finding projects to work on, working with managers who supported them and being inspired by having inspirational people around them all wanting to make a difference in their work and life.
So if organisations put the trust in their people, allow them to have a voice through social networking platforms and to work on projects that play to their strengths and creativity to solve organisational problems, I believe the organisation will have a body of advocates and supporters who are willing, able and delighted to serve – but to also lead.
After all, think about what it means when the time comes for those employees to leave the organisation. They continue to be advocates long after.
My reflections about what happened to me this week during my performance review and also my attendance at the Future of Work Conference was confirmed when I saw this interesting study by Weber Shandwick called Employee Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism. It explores how employees can be ‘proactivists’ for organisation and revealed that there’s a rising social movement where employee activists act as advocates and where organisations now have an opportunity to capitalise on these people.
So isn’t it time for organisations to put the trust back into work, allow their people to have a voice and unlock the tools that would allow the networks to build and grow? It’s not about being activists, hacking or creating manifestos – it’s simply just getting on with the job and treating people with respect and the acknowledgement that they deserve so that they can bring their whole self to work for the benefit of both themselves and their organisation.
- Photo Carousel: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:African_Penguins_Muenster.JPG
- Photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Rockhopper_Penguin
- Photo: Chris2D http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Social_Network_Security.png