Socially Conscious Employees Can Effect Corporate Change
STANFORD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS—Stanford University faculty member Debra Meyerson calls them "tempered radicals." They are under-the-radar rebels who lead social change from within large corporations by taking advantage of "small wins."
Writing in the Fall 2004 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, a journal published by the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Meyerson examines the successes of three tempered radicals: a manager at a global high-technology firm who championed the cause of sustainability and other issues; an oil rig manager intent on merging corporate social responsibility with business imperatives and safety concerns; and a rising leader in a large Swiss bank who advocated socially responsible and environmentally sustainable business practices at the bank.
Meyerson culled these and other case studies from interviews conducted in 1995 with hundreds of employees in three large companies and professionals who self-identified as "change agents." Among more than 230 people interviewed were doctors, nurses, lawyers, architects, investment bankers, entrepreneurs, chief executives, journalists, and a Navy admiral.
The Stanford Social Innovation Review, named one of the "Best New Publications of 2003" by the Western Publications Association, is at the forefront of innovation in social entrepreneurship, nonprofit management, and corporate citizenship. Articles are available online: www.ssireview.org.
"Tempered radicals operate on a fault line," Meyerson writes in the Review. "They are organizational insiders who often succeed in their jobs. They struggle between their desire to act on their 'different' agendas and the need to fit into the dominant culture."
Above all, tempered radicals advance their agendas by taking advantage of "small wins," says Meyerson, who is an associate professor at the School of Education and, by courtesy, associate professor of organizational behavior at the Business School. In the words of the high-tech manager featured in the article, tempered radicals "pull together all the weak signals in the system and allow them to experience themselves as a very strong signal."
Meyerson offers four tips for gentle provokers to start rocking the boat without falling out of it:
Build relationships with people inside and outside the company who share and appreciate marginalized aspects of your identity. Develop the discipline to manage heated emotions to fuel your agenda. Separate public "front stage" performances from "backstage" acts to create an appearance of conformity and credibility while acting on differences to sustain your sense of self. Design behind-the-scenes actions and initiate conversations that create connections with other people who have similar values, beliefs, and identities.
Other subjects addressed in the Fall 2004 issue of the Review include: how nonprofits can achieve Goliath-sized missions on small budgets; the dangers of confusing mission and strategy; how nonprofits can seize opportunities in tax legislation to lure millions of dollars of investment into social causes and more.
The Stanford Social Innovation Review is published by the Center for Social Innovation (CSI) of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The Review was part of an initiative launched in the year 2000 with the founding of the Center. Significantly expanded in the summer of 2002, CSI was created to promote innovative, effective, and efficient solutions to important social problems.