Jo, you shared a post recently from HBR that talked about one person who revolutionised the accessibility of AIDS treatments in South Africa. It got some likes and one or two disdainful comments.
What was in your mind as you shared that post?
Yes, it did seem to be a bit of a Marmite share!
I came across the article when scrolling through content on LinkedIn and the title: ‘How One Person Can Change the Conscience of an Organization’, instantly stood out to me, it resonated with me on a very deep level. The article was a classic ‘profit over people’ ethical scenario and it talked about how one person stood up for what he felt was right and how his actions went on to have a big impact, spreading ripples that brought about positive change on a large scale and went on to save countless lives.
The story clearly demonstrates the difference that one person can make, despite the odds being stacked against them. I wanted to share the article with my network as a source of inspiration and hope - a reminder that we all have the power to make a difference in the world, I think that’s something that all too often we forget.
One of the comments saddened me a little, as to me it seemed that the person who had posted it had either forgotten that they can make a difference, or they had lost all hope and belief in their ability to make a difference. It made me wonder what that individual had experienced in their life to have brought them to the point that they had lost their sense of self, their sense of hope and/or their sense of power - it gave me the feeling that the individual felt totally defeated, even though the way they posed their comment was jokey. It made me wonder about where he had worked and the type of organisational cultures he must have experienced during his career, it also made me think of my own experiences over the past 30 years too - so a lot of thinking!
I know that you and I have a lot in common when it comes to heroes, views on organisations and wider society, Perry, so I'm interested to know: what was your take on the article and the comments that followed?
So I liked the article Jo, and I believe the same as you - one person CAN make a difference hence the Ripple effect you’ve coined for your kindness movement as you mention above.
Many of my heroes are humble types. They would perhaps even deny their significance in the changes they brought about saying they were merely a spokesperson for the movement or a catalyst for changes others brought about.
So I took it that this person - a senior leader in a large pharmaceutical company, didn’t HAVE to do what they did - make a stand. As a result that they did, others listened, acted and things shifted significantly. Were they a more junior member of the team that may not have happened because in large corporations, people aren’t always listened to based on grade. So I could see that this particular individual was senior and that may have helped their cause. I wonder if a junior member of the team had raised it whether the outcome would’ve been the same.
As I said, he still didn’t HAVE to do this and challenge his seniors so new into a role so I thought it was bold, brave and risky for him to challenge the lawsuit and the overall ethos of what was going on.
I found the opposition to the article not because of the story but because it was that denizen of capitalist leadership HBR. Except in my experience, HBR publishes a lot of contra-capitalist ‘old-guard’ thinking. It appears to be driven by relevance and provocation with evidence and examples to prove the merit of their features. If it was an Op-Ed, I could understand the reluctance to believe it or feel the essence of the article was sound.
Anyway back to the point of the article. I firmly believe one person can make a difference BUT it takes guts, guile and gusto to do this especially if you’re in a more junior position.
So Jo, what do you think helps people stand for something and be the lone voice to try and change something big?
Wow, that’s a tough one, Perry, perhaps easier to answer initially is what encourages people to stand for something and be a lone voice?! (a slight diversion!) At a very simplistic level, I think our moral compass COMPELS us to stand for something, even if we are going to find that we stand alone. We all have a deep feeling of what’s right and what’s fair and if we see or experience something that we know deep in our heart is fundamentally wrong, that is often enough of a driver to spur us into action. Combine that urge from our moral compass with our own personal journey in life and a feeling of passion and, sometimes, there really is no other option than to be the lone voice and to speak up on the issues that really matter to us.
It is of course a simple idea, to stand alone and speak up on issues that matter, but it’s not always easy for individuals to be a lone voice for a wide variety of reasons. If we take the article that we’ve been referring to as an example, the individual who stood up was a senior leader - as you rightly question, would the story have had the same ending if the individual was in a more junior position in the hierarchy? I am more than a little sceptical about that - and therein lies a huge problem in many organisations, the lack of voice/lack of importance given to voice at more junior levels.
As we have seen time and time again throughout history, a lone voice can be the catalyst for great things as, often, when someone speaks up and is a lone voice on an issue, very quickly they are joined by like-minded people who have also felt that there needed to be a change, but for whatever reason didn’t feel able to be the first person to stand up themselves. It’s as though by that one person speaking up, others have been given permission to also speak up and to make their voices heard. I guess it’s down to the idea of ‘strength in numbers’ and of finally seeing that you are not the only person who holds such views. Often we can feel that we are alone in our concerns or our thinking.
So, after my more than slight diversion, I’ll get back to your original question of what helps people stand for something and be the lone voice to try and change something big!
I would say that, in an organisational context, what helps is a culture that is open, transparent and has kindness and trust at its very core - a culture that cares about individuals holistically and truly cares about doing the right thing, for employees, for customers and for all other stakeholders. In an environment where speaking up and putting forward your views is not only accepted, but actively welcomed, even the most junior employee may feel more able to be the lone voice in bringing forward concerns or ideas of ways in which things might be improved. But as you rightly point out, Perry, it takes guts, guile and gusto, no matter the organisational culture you are in.
In an individual context, I think it’s down to our moral compass, our life story, our passion and our balance being tipped to the side of ‘enough is enough’.
So I’m interested in what you think, Perry, in your opinion and experience, what helps people stand up and be the lone voice?
I’m also interested to know whether you have ever been in the position where you have been that lone voice? If you have, what was the driving force behind your choice to stand up and put your views forward?
So good a response - beat that (I’m thinking!) Yes I have been a lone voice. And been talked down from it and then missed an opportunity. Sometimes, I’ve had others rally like you’ve described and PTHR is very much that. Not one person has been recruited. The team all came to me because they liked what I stood for as a business and we explored how to make it work if they came to join forces with me.
I’ve been a lone voice in a lot of things; Self-management in organisations in the face of doubters and even now in the 4-day Operating Week - some are sceptical.
I’ve also been a lone voice in corporate - with harder yards to travel in persuading people to take decisions higher up the chain. I used evidence where I could and won some and lost some.
I never gave up, I merely adapted. And if it was no, I found a way to channel my beliefs to a compromise that I was prepared to make. I still do that with clients now.
And I’ve walked away from money because I didn’t believe in the clients way of operating and being. Misogynistic recruiter firm, a large media agency and a cocksure lead generator.
What helps people stand up? Firstly their inner fire. Sometimes all that’s needed. Channeled into practical application though. Passion alone may not win.
Secondly a critical friend and/or a believer. Either or both. Someone who gets what you want and wants to support or cheerlead, or advise and shape.
Thirdly, space to think and craft. Ideas and stands sometimes need more discerning actions so use guile, ingenuity and good psychological tricks like appreciating others language and maps of the world.
So that’s it Jo.
Anything to add?
Just a big thank you from me, Perry, you have been a true cheerleader for the #BeTheRipple movement and a person that I can look up to as a role-model, a supporter, an advisor, a true professional and an incredibly kind human - it’s lovely to know you and to be on this kindness journey with you.
Thank you Jo and backatcha. You’re standing for something human, virtuous and much needed - kindness in all we do especially in the working world. More power to you.
Thank you so much, Perry. One final, final thought from me (promise!): I want everyone who reads this to consider their own ways of being and how they might support themselves and others in their communities, whether that be at work or in any other setting. As I stated when I shared the initial article, I feel that it is so important that we don't allow our energy for change to dissipate or allow the unacceptable to be the norm. It is vital that we stand up for what we truly believe in. If we don't do it, perhaps nobody else will and all those voices that might have joined us will remain silenced. As the article demonstrates, "A single person with clarity of conscience and a willingness to speak up can make a difference".
We can all be giants.
If you're interested in reading the article that Perry and Jo refer to, here's the link: https://hbr.org/2019/12/how-one-person-can-change-the-conscience-of-an-organization?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=hbr