Revolutionaries Handbook: How It Began

Autumn 2020, Looking Back: The revolution began in the fall of 2015. A few hundred of us Millennials and GenZers were bitching online that The Man wasn’t moving fast enough. Even with so many new 21st Century companies, far too many of us were locked into 20th Century relationships with our employers. But why?

We realized the missing element was us!

We, the majority of the workforce, were not proactive advocates for ourselves. We were too complacent and compliant. We took jobs that met only portions of our needs, and then felt the only way out was either to jump from employer to employer or to become free agents. All that changed over the course of 2015—16.

We drew our inspiration from an ancient Boomer anthem:

Can you imagine 50 people a day walkin’ in,

singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walkin’ out?

They’d think it was a movement!

So we started a movement. We started signing the same tune in unison, in every job interview:

You can get anything you want

if our lives to you are not nonchalant.

Only one in ten of us can achieve our dreams.

You can get anything you want,

if you change the covenant.

As inconceivable as it seems today in 2020, back in 2015 only 10% of the mainstream workforce could achieve their dreams and goals where they worked. The employee/employer relationship was rigged to favor The Man. But it wasn’t The Man’s fault. It was ours.

We tolerated that crap. We agreed to their terms. Allowing them to define the relationship mostly through engagement, an idea so horribly incomplete and corporate-centered that it became more dangerous than helpful.

All that changed five years ago.

The Inflection Point

If we didn’t act back then, we’d be screwed. Two opposing forces were crashing together. One favored The Man’s continued control of the relationship: The Internet of Things, wearables, robotics, disruptive technologies, and enhanced analytics meant massive amounts of work would be taken from people, and run and managed by technology.

The other force could have been our Achilles heel and could have been used against us. Or, if leveraged properly, it could enhance our negotiating position: There simply were not enough knowledge and service workers to fill the people-jobs that were left. By 2030, 25 major economies around the world would face massive labor shortages. This would happen largely because the education sector, as well as corporate training and development, would fail to deliver enough people with 21st century skills and aptitudes. No matter how The Man wanted to control our relationship, he still desperately needed us.

If we didn’t act boldly, decisively and in unison back then, we wouldn’t get the education and development we needed, and The Man would still be running our relationship.

We refused to be whiney victims. We decided to steer the relationship proactively to be more 50/50 — so it built strong futures for, and benefited, both employers and employees.

These ideas were spelled out in one Future of Work Study which identified how the relationship needed to change. It found future of work workforce saw companies as vehicles that could amplify our passions, achievements and community relationships beyond what we could have done on our own. We would only join and stay with companies that could effectively and efficiently help us achieve our goals and dreams.

Here are the top four topics we, as a unified workforce, focused on from 2015 to now in every job interview…

1. Two-Way Assessments

Yes, we know The Man gets to assess our efforts. That’s fair. But it’s also fair if we assess him. During every new-hire interview, we spelled out our personal dreams and goals for the next five years as part of our negotiated package.

Looking back at the five-year pattern, here’s what was negotiated most: 1. Targeted personal growth assignments to meet our personal dreams and goals. (The kind that used to be reserved solely for senior execs.) 2. Enhanced options for reassignments. (We’re only as good as the people on our team. We needed greater participation in choosing our teammates.)

2. Managing Our Work Portfolio

Yes, we know The Man gets to assign our work, and our job is to serve the company’s needs. That’s fair. But so is our need to maintain a future-focused work portfolio (the sum of all our different projects) that benefits our career track as well as life dreams and goals.

During job interviews, we spelled out a mix that worked for each of us. (Maximum: 50/50 mix of work that benefited the company and benefited our personal goals and dreams. Usually the mix was 60/40 or sometimes 70/30 in the company’s favor.) Most of us agreed to balance our needs in the work portfolio through personal growth assignments. 

3. Training, Development and Tech Usage

Most 2015 corporate infrastructures were stuck in the past, burdened by corporate-centered legacy system conversions. And most training and development was far too corporate-centered to be of real value to most of us. We needed far more say in the kinds of tools and development we could use.

4. Teammates in Changing the System

Almost every person we met at most every company was wonderful! The problem with The Man was not his people. It was The Man’s systems, structures, tools, processes and addiction to micro-managing uncertainties. The Man just didn’t know how to reimagine his structures fast enough. We volunteered to help, and we negotiated specific areas we wished to serve and improve.

As you see, while these notes come from our Revolutionaries Handbook, we are not anarchists or trouble-makers.

We chose to reimagine the employee/employer relationship from within. Simply because, while there were some great companies to work for back in 2015, far too often The Man kept shooting himself in the foot.

2015 Author’s Note: Will the next five years play out this way, as imagined? I don’t know. Nobody knows. But fair warning to most companies: You are moving way too frickin’ slow in changing your people and management systems. You’re ripe for some kind of revolution!

Sources for above: Bill Jensen’s new book, Future Strong, where he details the five choices each individual must make to ensure a strong future; and the research behind the book, the Future of Work Study.

See Bill Jensen’s companion piece: Disruptive Hero’s Handbook: How It Began.


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Bill Jensen makes it easier to do great work. He helps companies and teams double their productivity and pursue their passions. Bill has spent the past 25 years studying how work gets done. (Much of what he’s found horrifies him.) Bill is an internationally-acclaimed thought leader who is known for extremely useful content, with a passion for making it easier for everyone to work smarter, not harder. His first book, Simplicity, was the Number 5 Leadership/ Management book on Amazon in 2000. His eighth book, Future Strong, is available on Amazon. Bill is CEO of The Jensen Group. Among his clients are Bank of America, Merck, Pfizer, GE, L’Oréal Italia, Genentech, NASA, The World Bank, BBC, Philips Lighting, the US Navy SEALS, the government of Ontario, Singapore Institute of Management, Guangzhou China Development District, and the Swedish Post Office. Bill’s personal life fantasy is to bicycle around the globe via breweries.

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