Calling All Everyday Superheroes

We need you, now.

I don’t mean to interrupt you day job.
I know that your boss’s latest ThisMustBeDoneNow! directive is really important.

It’s just that down here on Planet RestOfUs, the 1950s won’t go away. Oh, we have lots of entrepreneurs kicking butt with the next Kickstarter Kraze and Awesomely Sweet App.

But Planet RestOfUs desperately needs superheroes like you. The people who get shit done. The ones who toil on the everyday work that matters, day-in, day-out.

We need you to step it up a notch. To purge us of the ideas and ghosts that haven’t realized that they have stayed beyond their expiration dates.

Our recent Future of Work Study determined that we need three types of Everyday Superheroes to banish these ghosts for good…

Graphic is downloadable from Pinterest

1. Disruptive Heroes

As a youth, you were the one who organized an entire community to clean up its litter. When Aunt Suzie was diagnosed with breast cancer, you rallied everyone for a walkathon. You now serve on several boards and committees during your “free” time.

Your whole life you have refused to allow wicked, systemic problems, that are far bigger than you, to stay bigger than you. Somehow, you have always found a way.

We need that from you today. One of the biggest challenges we face in today’s workplaces are the systems and structures that are way past their expiration dates: How we organize people in companies; How we create and manage budgets; How we train and develop people, and more.

If you are in a leadership position, we need you to blow up these outdated systems! One current superhero doing that is Tony Hsieh at Zappos. He began by delivering happiness as a business model. He’s now moved on to holacracy, how entire organizations can be self-managed. He bet his legacy on this new approach when he mandated the change for everyone at Zappos: Adopt holacracy or leave.

If you are not in Hsieh’s position to initiate systemic changes, you still have your voice. Draw upon your community activism experiences outside of work. Be the voice for sweeping changes and do not stop until you see those changes.

If you are “just” an Everyday Hero, your voice and your passions are your superpowers:
1. Educate yourself
about today’s lingering systemic structures and practices. (For starters, Google any of the following: Holocracy, Wirearchy, Consumerization of IT, Crowdsourcing, Mindfulness, Open Space Technology, Open Source Technology, Hackathons, Design Thinking. Then compare what you find in your search to your current employer’s structures and practices.)
2. Create the conversations and protests and rallies to bring attention to these challenges — outside your organization if that’s safest, but preferably sponsor these discussions within your own firm.
3. Organize communities of fellow disruptive heroes.
4. Think epic, be epic.

2. Relentless Explorers

In 2015, workforce advocacy, by most leaders in power, is HORRIBLE! Take an HR executive out for drinks, promise anonymity, and ask them who they serve, and which evaluations matter on their scorecard. You will hear a difficult truth: Their focus is mostly on business issues. Most of the people issues that get most of the attention are limited to those that can be tracked back to quarterly business results or might pose risks to the business.

Ten years ago, one of Fast Company magazine’s cover stories was Why We Hate HR. When it comes to true workforce advocacy, their problems have only gotten worse. HR is as much your enemy as your friend. Some have even advocated for its total demise.

We desperately need Everyday Heroes who are explorers of new ways to advocate for workforce needs. Not necessarily on the important issues already getting air time — diversity, the glass ceiling, rewards and recognition, flextime, work/life balance, etc.

We need Everyday Heroes to explore and then raise workforce advocacy in completely new ways for the 21st century. For example: Our Future of Work Study found that most of us cannot achieve our dreams where we work. We should all be horrified by this!

Dreams reduction and destruction cannot be tolerated. The way the future of work workforce sees its relationship with companies is that they are not just there to serve the company and its customers. The company must also serve them, helping them achieve their dreams better than they could elsewhere or on their own.

We need you to advocate for issues like these:
• Workplaces are places where we can achieve our dreams
• Workplace tools, processes, training and technologies are as tailored to our personal needs as fully as everything available for our phones and tablets
• Big data is used for that personalization, not just as a 21st century company-focused whip to crack. (Like charging more for employee healthcare if you’re BMI is too high, which is an increasingly popular corporate-practice.)

To Dos: Same as Disruptive Heroes, above: Your voice and your passions are your superpowers.

3. Fearless Workers

There are good fears: Being gored by a charging bull, not getting proper healthcare, not having enough savings for a rainy day… Then there are today’s wasteful workplace fears: Fear of failing, fear of what others might think of us, fear of not keeping up, fear of trying.

Calling all Everyday Superheroes: Even if you (incorrectly) believe that #1 and #2 are beyond you… You absolutely must step up on #3.

The secret to all your successes in the future of work is your willingness to be more vulnerable. You willingness to risk failure, to risk looking bad or foolish, to risk trying something that’s way beyond your comfort zone.

Do something once a day that is outside of your comfort zone. Get right back on the bike once you’ve skinned your knees.

If you’re still squeemish on this front: One “safe” way to tackle wasteful workplace fears is to think of all your work like you would an investment portfolio. For most of us, those portfolios are a mix of risky, to mostly-safe, to guaranteed-safe investments. The same idea applies to your work portfolio.

Let’s say you do ten projects per year. Select one project (or two or three, depending on your tolerance for risk), to be a Fail Forward project. These are stretch projects where you’re willing to risk being dinged or possibly missing deadlines or goals, knowing that doing so won’t substantially hurt your career. (The portfolio approach protects you from risking too much.) The project’s biggest return: Learning how to increase your tolerance for risk.

Journeying into the land of personal vulnerability — this is where we need the most Superheroes.

Please be our hero. We need you, and lots more just like you, to help rescue us from 2oth century ghosts.

Bill Jensen loves being a Disruptive Hero. Relishes being a Relentless Explorer. On the continuously vulnerable and fearless front — that’s still a work in progress.
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