Employer: Let your workers rebel!!

BY THE OFFICE COACH - NOVEMBER 11, 2016

There is much debate and discussion around ways to facilitate employee engagement but few are as interesting as the ideas presented by Francesca Gino, the Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

Her research shows the value of promoting constructive non-conformity in business behaviour that deviates from organisational norms, others’ actions or common expectations, to the benefit of the organisation. Imagine actively encouraging your employees to go against the grain!

It is a radical idea to most of us; fitting in is a means of gaining approval, of being socially acceptable. It is something we became acutely aware of as children moving into adolescence. And it is perpetuated in our adult lives by hiring processes that look for “cultural fit” in candidates and a myriad of other social influencers.

Being a non-conformist is a scary prospect; it means standing out. It means standing in the spotlight. It means you may be challenged.

Yet non-conformity promotes innovation, improves performance and can enhance a person’s standing more than conformity can. For example, research Gino conducted with Silvia Bellezza, of Columbia, and Anat Keinan, of Harvard, showed that observers judge a keynote speaker, who wears red sneakers, a CEO who makes the rounds of Wall Street in a hoodie and jeans and a presenter who creates her own PowerPoint template rather than using her company’s as having higher status than counterparts who conform to business norms.

Her research also shows that going against the crowd gives us confidence in our actions, which makes us feel unique and engaged and translates to higher performance and greater creativity. These findings present a compelling reason to explore the idea of letting workers rebel.

Here are some ways that you can encourage your employees to break free of conformity without risking a riot in the workplace:

  1. GIVE EMPLOYEES OPPORTUNITIES TO BE THEMSELVES
  • Tell employees what job needs to be done rather than how to do it. For example, as part of a campaign to inform employees of the company’s values, we asked values ambassadors within the company to create a short video each explaining a value. They were given a broad script and some examples of good videos and then they were left to their own devices. Creative, engaging and authentic videos resulted and no one video was the same.
  • Let employees solve problems on their own by shifting from answers to questions. Use your knowledge of the business or a situation to ask insightful and challenging questions that cause people to stop, think, and rethink.
  1. CREATE CHALLENGING EXPERIENCES
  • Maximise variety by assigning diverse tasks to people; avoid always giving the same types of tasks to people because they have previously done them well.
  • Continually inject novelty into work. When something new happens, people tend to pay attention, so insist people sit in different seats when they come to regular meeting, assign somebody new to chair a meeting, or write the minutes on flip chart paper instead of on a desk pad
  • Identify opportunities for personal learning and growth. Companies like marketing and brand agency Boomtown help pay for courses that may not strictly relate to employees’ current jobs but that expand their employees’ skill sets or fuel their curiosity.
  1. FOSTER BROADER PERSPECTIVES
  • Create opportunities for employees to view problems from multiple angles. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats Model is a useful tool for promoting lateral thinking.
  • Voice and encourage dissenting views. You can encourage debate by inviting brave individuals to take opposing points of view, really listen to what they have to say and apply their thinking in situations that would benefit the company or broader team.

I encourage you to test Gino’s view that “if leaders were to put just half the time they spend ensuring conformity into designing and installing mechanisms to encourage constructive deviance, employee engagement, productivity, and innovation would soar”.