Why Leaders Should Encourage Employees to Rebel

By Francesca Gino

Organisations see lacklustre results when workers feel bored and constrained. By encouraging employees to rebel against convention and bring their best selves to the office, leaders can strengthen workforce engagement – and the bottom line.

 

When Greg Dyke arrived at the BBC in early 2000, he found an organisation in desperate need of reform. After growing for decades, the BBC was struggling financially and had lost its creative edge. To signal the type of change he wanted to see, the new general director distributed yellow cards resembling the penalty cards used by soccer referees when there’s an infraction. When staff members saw someone trying to block a good idea, Dyke explained, they should wave the yellow card and speak up. He wanted employees to use the cards to “cut the crap and make it happen.” The unorthodox directive was just one of many initiatives Dyke launched to give BBC employees more freedom to speak up. And it worked: After just a year with Dyke at the helm, ratings and audience satisfaction increased.

It’s common for successful organisations to one day discover that the usual ways are not producing the usual results – that the company has become complacent, or been too slow to adapt to industry or marketplace changes. As the threat of failure increases, leaders lean toward dramatic action: Time to reorganise, or to rethink the organisation’s values, or to merge with an industry disruptor. My research makes a strong case for a different solution: tell your employees to break the rules. When the world slips into uncertainty, our problems become more complex. As I write in my book, Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life, the rebel, undaunted by novel situations and ideas, adapts to change as a matter of course. A ground-up approach – unleashing everyone’s abilities by encouraging productive rebellion – can help organisations stay competitive in shifting markets.

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About the Author

Francesca Gino is an award-winning researcher and teacher, and a tenured professor at Harvard Business School. Her consulting and speaking clients include Bacardi, Akamai, Disney, Goldman Sachs, Honeywell, Novartis, P&G, and the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy. She has been honoured as one of the world’s Top 40 Business Professors under 40 and one of the world’s 50 most influential management thinkers. Her work has been featured on CNN and NPR, as well as in the Economist, Financial Times, New York Times, Newsweek, Scientific American, and Psychology Today.

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