We sat down with with Francesca Gino to get a better understanding on what she will be discussing with CLO Symposium+Plus attendees, her new book "Sidetracked" and her recent article in Harvard Business Review entitled, "Rebel Talent."
Q: Why is it important to be a rebel at work?
Francesca Gino: Being a rebel at work leads us to be more engaged in our job. No one shows up on the first day of work feeling unmotivated and uninspired. Yet, within just a few months the honeymoon period typically comes to an end. One recent Gallup survey of 230,000 employees in 142 countries found that only 13 percent feel engaged by their jobs. Across the globe, work is more often a source of frustration than fulfillment for almost 90 percent of employees. For most organizations this lack of engagement hinders productivity and innovation. Being a rebel at work leads us to be more engaged in our job. We also end up being more productive and creative in our work.
Q: What are some examples of positive rebel behavior?
FG: Being authentic more often and using our strengths at work are examples of what rebels do on a regular basis. Italian artist Michelangelo Buonarotti described sculpting as a process whereby the artist releases an ideal figure from the block of stone in which it slumbers. All of us possess such ideal forms: our signature strengths such as being social connectors or being able to see the positive in any situation. When we conform rather than rebel, we hold back from sharing our signature strengths and valuable ideas. Our engagement, creativity and performance suffer as a result. Regularly questioning the status quo is an example of positive rebel behavior.
Q: How do you balance being a rebel with the need to get along with others in a team-based environment?
FG: To strike the optimal balance between conformity and nonconformity, they must think carefully about the boundaries within which they are free to deviate from the status quo. For instance, the way a manager leads her team can be up to her as long as her behavior is aligned with the company’s purpose and values and she delivers on that purpose.
Q: What needs to change in how we develop managers to encourage more rebellious behavior?
FG: First, we need to change the way managers think of rebels. Usually we make negative associations with the words “rebels,” “rebellion” or “breaking rules.” We think of people who are stubborn, annoying or unwilling to comply with norms or even legal rules. But rebels often bring about change by fighting conformity pressures and questioning the status quo. So managers need to think about when conformity hurts their business and allow and even promote constructive nonconformity: behavior that deviates from organizational norms, others’ actions or common expectations to the benefit of the organization.
Q: What’s the connection between this kind of non-conformity and long-term learning?
FG: Many standard practices, processes and traditions we follow almost mindlessly in our jobs endure out of routine. Because we feel validated and reassured when we stick to our usual ways of thinking and doing and because, as research has consistently found, we weigh the potential losses of deviating from the status quo much more heavily than we do the potential gains, we favor decisions that maintain the current state of affairs. But sticking with the status quo can lead to boredom which in turn can fuel complacency and stagnation. And it also hurts our interest and willingness to learn. We stick to the familiar rather than exploring new possibilities and ways of accomplishing our work.
Francesca Gino, author of "Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan," also serves as a professor of business administration in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School.