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Activists are Taking Over the World?

How often do you hear phrases along these lines: change is the only constant, the pace keeps increasing, do more in less time etc? Although every organisation is different I can’t remember visiting a company where they told me things were getting slower (and if I did I expect the directors would be worried about their long term prospects!). I wonder, therefore, what affect this has on the employees? We constantly hear the mantra “our people are our main asset” (though I respectfully suggest a proportion who utter these words do so more in lip service than in a genuine belief) so how do people cope and what are the downsides of such a culture?

The title of this article includes the word “activist”. I use this not in the “reds under the bed” definition but Honey and Mumford’s four learning styles. For those of you not acquainted with this concept, this is a personality profile which focuses on how people like to learn. In brief these are:

  • Activist – learns by doing / getting involved
  • Theorist – wants to know the concepts that back up an idea
  • Pragmatist – learns by understanding how something will work in real life
  • Reflector – wants to consider new information at their own pace


Although this all relates to how people learn it is equally valid with regard to how people carry out their work on a day-to-day basis. Not surprising, therefore, that the “activist” is the most at home with a fast pace organisation that spends a minimum amount of time planning and a maximum amount of time   “getting on with it”. The activists’ of this culture shine, being in harmony with their surroundings and gaining promotion to ever more influential positions. As most recruiters are aware, the temptation is always to appoint like-minded individuals, which as the ranks of activists increases, exacerbates the situation.

Should any of this be a concern? To the company and the three other personality types, most certainly yes. Any organisation is only as good as the sum of its parts and if 75% of those parts are, to a degree, sidelined that cannot be good for rounded decision making, effective planning / implementation and ultimately the bottom line. How many times in the recent past have you seen an initiative in your organisation not hit the mark as well as it should have because it was introduced a touch too quickly? That is not to say that activists are the problem. They are just as vital within the context of a balanced organisation. To illustrate, a company made solely of reflectors would probably spend so much time in coming to a decision that more often than not they would miss the boat.

So where does this all get us? To simply say “slow down” is not enough. Trying to make it happen takes a bit more effort. What needs to firstly occur is an acknowledgement that this issue exists and the potential detriment to business is recognised (hence this article as my contribution). Secondly, organisations need to take an audit of the type of people they have within their company and what positions they hold. Finally, if it is felt that there is indeed an imbalance, start addressing it through recruitment, promotion and redistribution of your reflectors, pragmatists and theorists as well as perhaps helping the activists appreciate what the others bring to the party.



Contributor: Nigel Cullingford. Dip.CIPD

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