The promise of digital tools for organizational "hacktivism"

Employees can now aggregate their influence, skills and passion to form powerful horizontal coalition for proactive change. How can we encourage this happens at scale?

This week Quartz at work has a nice series of articles on the rise of activism in the workplace, including one on how digital tools are enabling employee mobilization (note: actual article may be behind a paywall):

This makes sense.  Individual front line employees have far less power than the CEO, but digital technology allows them to aggregate their influence, skills and passion to form a horizontal coalition for proactive change.  They can catalyze action and achieve critical mass without even asking for the CEO's blessing.  

Helen Bevan of the NHS demonstrated this brilliantly with Change Day, the grassroots campaign to improve patient care that she and a few junior medical professionals hatched and launched to great effect in 2013.  We describe NHS Change Day in Chapter 16 of our book, but you can get a sense of how the theory and results from the inaugural Change Day initiative in this Slideshare deck:

While technology is enabling powerful forms of organizational activism, these still all too rare. Part of the problem is a pervasive sense of learned helplessness, especially when it comes to changing entrenched management practices, like direction setting or performance review.

Yet these practices are not given to us by divine revelation--they were invented (most of them way too long ago) and can evolve through experimentation.  In our experience, training large numbers of people to "hack" management practices--something you can also deliver at scale given advances in digital platforms-- yields a torrent of ideas for making the organization less authoritarian and rule-chocked.

These ideas, or management "hacks," can be easily elaborated & prioritized by the community through a process of peer review.  The most promising hacks can then be tested in a targeted way.  And when these experiments are backed by a critical mass of people, they become hard for execs to ignore or shut down.  

I'll have more to say about this open-source approach to organizational change in future posts, but if you're interested in building communities of management "hacktivists," we've included some bonus content and tools at