Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Could Your Troublemakers Be The Answers To Your Problems?

The “halo effect” is a wonderful thing.  “Give a dog a bad name and hang him.” the proverb goes.  How often do management (with the compliance of a cowardly and compliant HR department) label someone as a “problem” because they usually:

Have a better idea?
  • Disagree with what “the boss” says?
  • Point out the faults in the organisation’s processes, systems and procedures?
  • Seem to be constantly swimming against the tide of “received corporate wisdom”?

Labeling someone as a “troublemaker” – and telling them about it – is an easy way to put them in their place.  After all, most people want to be thought of as “good corporate employees” and “team workers”.  These are values that society and organisations drum into us from day one.  “Don’t rock the boat”, “Don’t stick your neck out”, “Don’t make waves” tend to be the oft-repeated phrases in appraisals, water-cooler conversations and the like. 

As a result, leadership becomes complacent, stops learning and even over-invests in the status quo.  They may let themselves off too often or too easily when things go wrong. 

How do “troublemakers” benefit an organisation?  I see a number of ways:

Challenge and striving are good for us both mentally and physically.  They’re also good for our customers, staff and shareholders.  Look at what happened to any number of large organisations that ultimately failed because of the “hubris” of their leaders (Lehman Bros, RBS, Northern Rock).  No one dared to challenge their force of personality, and the results were disastrous.

A troublemaker might actually be pointing out a learning experience; something new that’s happening in the market or internally.  If you miss out on the opportunity, your business could suffer.

They may be showing the way to do things better.  Just because it’s “not invented here” doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be taken seriously.  We see too many examples of businesses that became complacent and lost out (Microsoft, Nokia).  The world is amore competitive place, and businesses need to be able to spot trends and react fast.

Different people process information in different ways.  Some can spot trends or patterns faster than others.  Although what they say may not be welcome as it will “cost too much” to implement and “none of the competitors are doing it”, it doesn’t mean it isn’t valid.  If you constantly wait until the competition does it, you’re already playing “catch-up” as opposed to “changing the game” and making others follow.

Some people may indeed be genuine troublemakers if all they do is cause disruption, dissension and demotivation, but before dismissing them out of hand, check to see if there’s substance to what they’re doing or saying.

One way of seeing if they have a point is to allow them their head.  Of course this is “risky”, but if you establish clear guidelines on what you expect, their limits of authority, key project review points, results expected and consequences for non-achievement, you can minimise this.  Equally, you will then find out if you have a valuable but maligned resource on your hands or a true “problem child” who needs help.

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in the world financial services industry running different service, operations and lending businesses, I started my own Performance Management Consultancy to offer solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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