I often hear the frustration of employees who would like to do a food revolution in their workplace. Think about changing how their employer approaches nutrition or sustainability.
Those are people who engage in community activities and support food movements like Slow Food outside of work and would like to share their knowledge in their workplaces.
“How can I spread food education and culture in my workplace if my leaders and CEO don’t even see the need for it? How do I persuade them to give a green light to food projects? ” Someone asked me the other day.
Be it helping our organizations to create an environmentally sustainable canteen or starting a beekeeping program in our offices, it’s clear that businesses can benefit from the passions of their employees. But let’s be honest, convincing business leaders that this is great not only for the environment but also for the team and the organization itself is often a real challenge.
So the question is:
How do you bring about positive changes in an organization when you don’t have formal authority?
In this post, I’ll draw a parallelism between movements and the workplace. I’ll use Restaurant Day as a reference to show how food movements provide a process to bring about change from the bottom-up that can be applied to the workplace. Then, I’ll provide a 4-step process to get started in your food revolution, even if you don’t have formal authority.
Learning from Movements
Think about #MeToo Movement, #FridaysForFuture, or Restaurant Day, to mention a few. What do they have in common? All those movements spurred from a single person or a group of citizens with no formal authority—often in a position of vulnerability—who shared the same problem and vision about a different world.
How have those movements managed to rally their communities? How have they grown into global cases? They have all used a bottom-up approach.
Let’s dive into one great example: Restaurant Day.
Restaurant Day: a movement kicking a food revolution in Finland
Restaurant Day (RD) is a worldwide food carnival that allows anyone to set up a restaurant, café or bar for a day. It started in Helsinki, Finland, on May 2011. The idea for RD came to Antti Tuomola who had tried to set up a restaurant in the archipelago of Helsinki.
Stringent regulations prevented the project from getting off the ground, so he called upon two friends for help. They discovered that restrictions didn’t apply to pop-up restaurants, as long as they opened for one day only. That led to a brainstorming session, a Facebook page, and a social media campaign that captured people’s imaginations.
In May 2011, the first RD saw around 40 pop-up restaurants open in towns all over Finland. In public parks, on street corners, and in private homes, even on the beach, everyday folks set up restaurants, cafes, and bars selling everything and anything, from gourmet hotdogs to exotic delicacies from far-flung corners of the earth.
“If opening a restaurant is difficult we need to make it easier,” says co-founder Timo Santala to the authors of Social Design Cookbook, a book that presents some of the most popular models and practices of collaborative knowledge production and sharing, and collective action, including Restaurant Day, Pecha Kucha, and many others.
My experience with Restaurant Day
I attended the second edition of RD which took place in Helsinki in August of the same year. It was so much fun that a few months later I decided to open my first pop-up restaurant in a flower shop with a couple of friends.
In total, I set up four pop-up restaurants with some friends in Helsinki and the first in Italy with my mum in 2012. Besides the flower shop, I’ve served food in two art galleries, under a bridge (a few years before Noma hosted the ‘Under the bridge’ pop-up), and on a street corner.
What had started as a way to bypass local laws became the catalyst for the transformation of the Helsinki food landscape. What happened then? The municipality established a city division for food strategy that changed local laws and made the opening of restaurants, cafès, and bars a lot easier.
RD was also the first of many initiatives that contributed to the start and growth of a movement for food entrepreneurship in the Finnish capital, which also marked the beginning of my journey as an entrepreneur in 2014. Thanks to three guys and a lot more believers who dreamed about making the Helsinki food scene more vibrant, the city became an exciting food destination!
The Benefits of a Bottom-up Approach in the Workplace
Workplaces are like society. Just on a smaller scale. They have their own rules, regulations, power structures, conversations, and rituals. Similarly to society, many workplaces are averse to quick changes and radical improvements.
Why a bottom-up approach is often the best move to:
- Make something happen
- Show that change is possible
- Set a positive example that spreads throughout the organization to the CEO’s and senior leadership’s ears.
If you are a frontline manager or an employee with an excellent vision and idea, remember that you are needed. You can (and should) take the lead. Ever heard of the term social intrapreneur?
Michigan’s Ross School of Business Professor Jerry Davis and Lecturer Chris White suggest that social intrapreneurs are those who create positive change in organizations, even when they don’t have formal authority.
In their book Changing Your Company from the Inside Out: A Guide for Social Intrapreneurs (Harvard Business Review Press), they detailed their findings on intrapreneurial ventures, providing a roadmap for successfully driving change.
Since the corporate world is for conformity, if intrapreneurs want to do things above and beyond, they need to do it skillfully. For example, they could use a process that looks somewhat similar to those of successful social movements, like Restaurant Day.
The Community Journey: a 4-step Bottom-up Approach
Here is an easy 4-step Bottom-up Framework to getting started in your food revolution.
1. Identify your pain points
Are you unhappy with the food offering? Is the dining space inadequate or too noisy? Do you disagree with your company’s approach to food waste and sustainability?
A great idea at the wrong time is unlikely to get traction. Contrarily, if the timing is right, an implausible idea can be successful. Look for shifts in leadership priorities, which create an urgent need for new solutions. Your goal is to position your idea to be carried along by the momentum of the system — not swim against the tide.
2. Gather your community
Gather with your team members and fellow employees. What are their priorities? What are their challenges? How will you need to adapt your case to each of them to be effective?
Your goal is to build strong support along the way and rally your community towards action.
3. Craft your language
Build your idea by using the language and strategic goals of your company. That way, it sounds like a natural evolution rather than a radical change.
Your goal is to activate the support of important allies but does not trigger alarm bells. That’s why in Step 2 is essential to identify fellow “coffee or food co-heroes” who can support and cherish on you along the way.
4. Start Small
Look for sensible solutions to arrange your initiative. Perhaps there is a small pilot food program that can be widely replicated. Or a once-a-week team breakfast can set a positive example.
How can you use technology and social media to connect with others and scale your idea? Your goal is to make this an easy idea to grasp as it starts spreading.
A bottom-up approach is an excellent choice to fight a plague of many workplaces; siloed communication. Siloed communication alienates employees and makes them feel as if their ideas are undervalued or ignored. Think about it. Who’s more suitable than the same frontline managers and employees to break formal barriers that don’t benefit anyone?
Don’t Hold Yourself Back
No one said that change was easy. If you are afraid that you won’t find support from your team or your leaders will not support your initiatives, worry not. Davis and White have found that senior leaders are often very supportive and welcome their social intrapreneurs’ efforts.
As we’ve learned from the experience of Restaurant Day, opening a pop-up restaurant helped create change.
If you are looking for ideas on how to start a food revolution in your workplace, you could start by hosting a meal and inviting all your colleagues to join you at the table.
When skillfully planned and facilitated, not only could this dining occasion potentially get your colleagues to share what they need, it will expose upper management to a hotbed of fresh ideas.
And if it doesn’t work the first time, at least you have started a dialogue. That’s how a bottom-up approach meets a top-down approach halfway. In other words, this is a win-win situation for everyone.
There’s a powerful quote by American anthropologist and women’s rights activist Margaret Mead, which never ceases to inspire me:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”Margaret Mead
So what are you waiting for? We need you to get started.
Cover Photo: Timo Santala for Restaurant Day
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