In an organization having a base of employees who strive to conform … go along with the stated goals, the methods of doing the job or with the majority of opinions … seems nice. No time wasted on major disagreements that side-track the direction and progress both desired and being made within the company. Yet, although convenient on one hand, creating and residing in such a culture of ‘agreement’ also has the ability to stifle achievement of the very goals that have been established. And further, such an atmosphere is a significant contributor to individual burnout that can undermine the greatest of organizations.
In our coaching we see this quite often. And it’s not limited to any particular level of employee. In fact, however, it appears that the higher one moves within the organization the greater the pressure to conform … to play one’s cards right … don’t make waves or rock the boat … relent to the prevalent opinion rather than stir up the pot. And here in lies the problem. Playing by these rules appears to escalate the burnout that negatively impacts both the energy and enthusiasm
within the overall company and thus the level of success.
Francesca Gino addresses this issue in her article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Let Your Workers Rebel” that thoroughly addresses this challenge at the same time it provides a winning solution. She says “Throughout our careers, we are taught to conform — to the status quo, to the opinions and behaviors of others, and to information that supports our views. The pressure only grows as we climb the organizational ladder. By the time we reach high-level positions, conformity has been so hammered into us that we perpetuate it in our enterprises. Organizations consciously or unconsciously urge employees to check a good chunk of their real selves at the door. Workers and their organizations both pay a price: decreased engagement, productivity, and innovation.”
Yet there is a solution that makes sense and Gino calls it ‘constructive nonconformity’ as it promotes innovation, improves performance, and can enhance a person’s standing more than conformity can. Her research substantiates 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. Isn’t this ultimately what we want?
Here are the 6 steps of moving to a culture that encourages constructive nonconformity:
1. Give Employees Opportunities to Be Themselves
The person who is allowed to be their authentic self is simply more engaged. Tell them what needs to be done rather than how to do it and allowing them to solve problems on their own … or at least try.
2. Encourage Employees to Bring out Their Signature Strengths
Give people the opportunity to identify their own strengths and then tailor their responsibilities to those strengths.
3. Question the Status Quo, and Encourage Employees to Do the Same
Encourage the questions of “Why” and “What If”. Stress that the organization is not perfect which encourages the offering of other approaches or ideal
4. Create Challenging Experiences
The sense of boredom grows when there is little variety or challenge in any job. Maximize variety, inject novelty into the work and give people responsibility and accountability in their work to maintain interest and energy.
5. Foster Broader Perspectives
Create opportunities for employees to view problems from multiple angles. Use language that reduces self-serving bias. Hire people with diverse perspectives.
6. Voice and Encourage Dissenting Views
Look for disconfirming evidence rather than supporting evidence. Create dissent by default and identify courageous dissenters.
Creating a work culture of constructive nonconformity can be a case of ‘be careful of what you wish for’. However, to the extent that one can strive to keep their job exciting and energy generating, the payoff is the momentum that exists within the organization … momentum that serves the company well in terms of moving along the path of desired accomplishment. Oh yes … the other payoff is that burnout is minimized with the benefit of adding to the longevity potential of valued employees. In this case encouraging rebellion comes with clear-cut benefits. Maybe you might want to try it?