Skip to content

Why Your Organization Needs More Rebels, Heretics, and Weirdos

What a whirlwind at the 2015 HRPA Annual Conference this week! On day one, following three keynotes, 2 sessions, lots of coffee, and two after-parties later, I arrived home with a brain full of ideas and an iPhone full of notes. Here’s my first post from this week’s HRPA Annual Conference 2015:

Why Your Organization Needs More Rebels, Heretics, and Weirdos

Take a second and think about the best team that you have ever been part of. What made the team great? What did it feel like to be part of it? How did the team members interact with one another?

If the team you’re thinking of was the picture of harmony and cooperation, it might be worth questioning your rose-coloured recollections of just how great it actually was. In the session “When Getting Along Doesn’t Equal Results” Nicole Bendaly notes that while harmony and cohesiveness often figure into our individual visions of an ideal team, these qualities can often mask a disconnect between what a team is doing and why they are doing it (the connection to organizational results).

That is, a team that comes to value and perpetuate agreement above all else will almost surely lose the opportunity to develop innovative and adaptive ways to drive results to the next level. Simply put, some conflict is both beneficial and necessary to ensure that the way a team does things remains the best way to achieve their goals in support of broader organizational objectives.

If you’ve ever found yourself in a meeting weighing whether to argue for the right but difficult course of action or just keep your moth shut, or avoided offering true but negative feedback on a team members idea (because they did work really hard on it after all), then your team needs a wake up call.

Innovation, adaptation, growth, change – these are not borne out of compromise or trade offs. First and foremost they require a challenge to the status quo, a questioning of the current modus operandi. A team of yes people unwilling to disagree or debate is not going to get you there. You need a rebel, a heretic, a pain in the a$$ who is going to ask why you do something the way that you do in a way that can’t be ignored.

At the afternoon keynote, Ginger Grant spoke about the true path to innovation and a unique competitive advantage lies in finding your organization’s misfits and outliers and asking them what they love to do, and what they need to do it well. She claims that utilizing strong performer’s ‘oddness’ for the positive by helping them find their niche can result in an explosion of inventive ways forward for an organization.

So how do we as HR professionals make our organizations inviting environments for rebels, heretics and weirdos? In my own opinion I think it requires a two-pronged approach, First and foremost, we need to get them in the door. All that ‘hiring for cultural fit’ nonsense is not going to serve us well here. We need to break the mould, not hire another cookie cutter yes person who will refrain from rocking the boat. Embracing true diversity of viewpoint, educational discipline, and socioeconomic status might be a great start. Secondly, we need to get comfortable with conflict. As a profession, I think that HR has a tendency to view conflict and discord as uniformly negative; an issue to be addressed and solved as quickly as possible. If Grant and Bendaly are right, we need to consider how we can help our managers and employees discern healthy, necessary conflict from unhealthy, and support them in harnessing and leveraging its potential for good. This goes against so much of what managers are taught and told that it requires a shift in mindset and a retooling of their interpersonal skills.

A familiar quote often attributed to Einstein goes “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. In a world of unprecedented global competition and technological upheaval, it may be that the greatest advantage we can equip our organizations with is the ability to think differently. So the next time you are hiring a new team member, consider that candidate that seems to see things differently than the rest of your group. They might just hold the key to a new way of doing things in support of achieving different and better results.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lynn Patra #

    Reblogged this on Work-Life Strategies & Solutions and commented:
    Here’s a post I’ve been meaning to share as it resonates with me deeply. Those of us who consider ourselves free-thinkers and enjoy the process and benefits of honest, spirited debate and conflict have probably, at one time or another, experienced a form of oppression in situations where cultural norms overemphasize social harmony, cooperation, and cohesion. The problem with striving for an atmosphere of perpetual warmth and agreement, as Jane Watson describes, is that great ideas get squashed. Hence, going against conventional wisdom with regard to hiring for cultural fit is especially important for organizations that aim to be innovative. Watson’s post provides a thought-provoking alternative view on what makes a great team, so check it out!

    February 14, 2015
  2. Reblogged this on The HR Gazette.

    April 2, 2015
  3. Jane,

    This is one of my favourite posts that you’ve written.

    The idea of healthfully contrasting viewpoints and how leadership allows them to flourish, rather than discourage them, is a concept close to my heart!

    I believe the role of leaders in any culture – corporate, or otherwise – is to accommodate and make room for new and unfamiliar ideas to penetrate the status quo so it can progress, evolve and innovate.

    It is true that rocking the boat and conflict can arise as a bi-product. However, leaders skilled in recognizing the difference between what are birth pains of new concepts and. what is dangerous contention, is crucial.

    I think most difficult situations can be pivotal if we can harness what is seemingly negative for the good of the organization. The key is not to panic and really examine it for potential from all the sides that apply.

    It is interesting to see how different personalities react to this dynamic and also to people who don’t seem to fit the mold.

    This is why I am so passionate about personality assessments and strengths analysis and teaching people in organizations greater self-awareness, self-acceptance (so hard to accept another when you’re having trouble embracing yourself!), appreciation, celebration and, most importantly, the mindful utilization of others’ skills and inherent brilliance to achieve amazing things.

    This is a great blog… Glad you’re back to writing!



    November 30, 2015

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Weekly Musings – February 12, 2017 | Talent Vanguard

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: