Igniting a Cooperative Movement, The New Communications Approach

Since the release of The Path to Sustainable Change, our work has been transformed as we have placed increasing focus on the ways that our organizational change methodology can practically present itself within companies. One of the most intriguing examples is the recent use of The Path to inform the creation of a new approach to corporate communications. 

Here is how we have framed this new approach: 

We are evolving communications to take advantage of an emerging trend in how people are organizing and mobilizing in an increasingly social and cooperative manner.

The aim is to ignite a cooperative movement within—one that profoundly demonstrates how alignment and sharing, across the company, can accelerate the type of engagement you intend, and the social impact you hope to have.

And, by doing this in a social and cooperative manner, one clear goal is to realize significant efficiencies and reconnect people, at a very personal level, to why they do what they do.

It all starts with a cause—that north star which clearly signals the intentions of a Cooperative Movement.

In a traditional communications approach, a cause is translated and interpreted, in a variety of ways, through business units and functions. Periodically, you find expressions that signal unification among groups.

When people come together to ignite a Cooperative Movement, you have the opportunity to reshape communications and change the trajectory.

As we have studied them, Movements start with a group of Organizers who believe in the cause. They work to define a common set of Principles—what they feel it will take to achieve a more compelling picture of the future.

Then, Organizers focus on two things: Communicating why the cause is of personal importance to them and why thinking and acting by certain Principles can help people realize an intended future impact; and, Inspiring cooperation for broad sharing of knowledge, insights, advancements and resources—all of which serve to help people act on an intended manner.

Communications that are organized and act in this manner have the ability to bring people together in new and powerful ways…allowing them to become activists for a cause…and inspiring them to share and spread a cooperative spirit to others.

Inspired by a History of Movements

We looked to powerful social movements for inspiration. While we recognize that broad social injustices or inequities may not be fueling a cause within an organization, there are foundational principles which contribute to the creation of any movement—the act of inspiring and motivating people to move, all together, toward a more compelling picture of the future. It is from these principles that we have drawn inspiration, and strive for others to be equally inspired.

The Civil Rights Movement

Author Simon Sinek references a cornerstone event during his TED talk on how great leaders inspire action. He reminds us that on August 28, 1963, a quarter of a million people came to hear Dr. King give a speech. There were no invitations, no emails spreading the word of the event. People connected to a cause…that this was about the desire for the laws of man to move closer to the laws of a higher justice…and they told others. Ultimately, they came not for him. They came for themselves.

People will rally to a cause when someone they know and trust invites them, and when they feel it is about them and not the cause.

  • Movements start by connecting people to an understanding of why a cause is of personal importance.

The Breast Cancer Movement

Susan G. Komen for the Cure is the global leader of the breast cancer movement, having invested more than $2 billion since its inception in 1982. The declared promise is to save lives and end breast cancer forever by empowering people, ensuring quality care for all and energizing science to find the cures. 

Across the country, that promise is upheld by a network of 124 groups that initiated from one person who, like Susan, wanted to make a difference. But, the movement is not fueled by the amount of money invested or the hundreds of thousands that volunteer and participate in local walks for the cure. The movement is fueled by who people walk for…the picture of the individual pinned to their shirts. Ask anyone what they are walking for and they point to their picture and say, “I walk for her.”

  • Movements gain momentum as people feel they are making a difference to those they personally know, respect, and wish to honor.

The National Farm Workers Association Movement

Cesar Chavez and his collaborators launched a six month house meeting drive to undertake one simple act: to solicit hundreds of individual stories that would be woven together into a broader story of economic, racial and political injustice. When done, they invited 1,000 farmer workers to a meeting on September 16th, Mexican Independence Day, who voted overwhelmingly to go on strike. The organizers hoped to turn the strike into a movement. They wrote:

What is a movement? It is when there are enough people with one idea so that their actions are together like the huge wave of water, which nothing can stop. It is when a group of people begins to care enough so that they are willing to make sacrifices. The civil rights movement of began in the hot summer of Alabama ten years ago when a woman refused to be pushed to the back of the bus. Thus began a gigantic wave of protest throughout the South for an equal place under the sun. Sometime in the future they will say that in the hot summer of California in 1965 the movement of the farm workers began. It began with a small series of strikes. It started so slowly that at first it was only one man, then five, then one hundred. This is how a movement begins.

  • Movements accelerate when local, seemingly underwhelming actions connect to other actions with similar aspirations.

The Women’s Rights Movement

The staggering changes for women that have come about over seven generations in family life, in religion, in government, in employment, in education—these changes did not just happen spontaneously. Women themselves made these changes happen, very deliberately. Women have not been the passive recipients of miraculous changes in laws and human nature. Seven generations of women have come together to affect these changes in the most democratic of ways: through meetings, petition drives, lobbying, public speaking, and nonviolent resistance. They have worked very deliberately to create a better world.

While we can look at many remarkable events that created and sustained the Women’s Rights Movement—from Elizabeth Stanton leading the original ‘Declaration of Sentiments’ to the formation of the League of Women Voters to ensure women used their hard-won right to vote wisely –perhaps it was the diligence of activism against staunch opposition throughout the 72 years it took for women and their supporters to be successful that is held as most remarkable.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now a Supreme Court Justice, reminds us:

I think about how much we owe to the women who went before us—legions of women, some known and many more unknown. I applaud the bravery and resilience of those who helped all of us—you and me—to be here today.

  • Movements result in sustainable change when legions of people have the courage to reach for new ideals that push beyond how we presently think and act.