In our “let’s measure everything possible” business climate, we systematically tend to paint ourselves into corners. We want to be able to measure things and have a way to back-track so we can find the source of any problems that arise. In doing so, we create processes and procedures to make sure we’re all on the same proverbial page. These business platitudes are code speak for “Don’t deviate or your job could be on the line.”

The crazy part about this approach is that it assumes leadership has all the answers and the employees don’t have any. We use arguments like, “Well if everyone did their own thing, nothing would get done.” While intrinsically a very true statement, it doesn’t always fit into the context of the conversation when it is being used. So, for the sake of actually getting something done, someone is left with a decision. Either play by the rules with little to no change, or be rebellious for the sake of improvement in spite of the wet blanket they have come to know collectively as leadership.

The intent of this rebellion isn’t malicious as so much as it is seeking positive change. There exists a belief in an alternative that is stronger and has more conviction than the consequences of breaking ranks. These are the kinds of actions that often times bring about innovation and creativity, that spawn new products and services and that set up market distinction for organizations. It is what I call a benevolent rebellion.

As I write this, I can actually hear heels being dug in under the desks of leaders and managers. Before you get the hot tar and feathers…

A benevolent rebellion (aka Initiative) isn’t something that can be controlled or avoided. It WILL manifest itself in one way or another. It may be facilitated by circumstances or by personality types or even a combination of both. It could reveal itself as a side project, as water cooler chatter or as turnover. It is ubiquitous and unstoppable, so instead of spinning your wheels pushing against its existence, you may want to learn how best to respond to it.

Here are 5 ways to respond well to a benevolent rebellion:

  1. Accept it as a positive – While there may be some negative aspects to how it has played out, there are usually some nice sized diamonds in the rough. Benevolent rebellions happen to fill a need, not to undermine an established system. When you get your head around the whole affair as a good thing, you should be able to see the positives more clearly.
  2. Ask lots of questions – Accepting it as something positive doesn’t excuse you from due diligence. Bring together a collaboration team to vet the idea. Give it your support, but let people ask questions and ask your own questions. If you make sure it is done in the spirit of improving the possibility of the idea, the questions will be better received and not elicit defensive answers.
  3. Check the alignment – While something may be a great idea, your culture and strategy need to stay intact. If the implementation of this new idea will cause you to step away from your desired/established culture, then a re-think is in order. If it challenges your strategy, you want to think long and hard about changing strategies because of one idea. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it better be really freakin’ good! Alignment is absolutely necessary to maintain quality engagement and send a consistent message. You may want to ask people to figure out a way that helps it align with the organization better. It’s a great way to reinforce your culture.
  4. Understand the motivation – Be slow to judge, but you know your people. You know the ones who always complain and have a bad attitude. (Not sure why they’re still there to screw up your culture, but I digress…) Make it a point to know your people. A benevolent rebellion WILL happen. The better you know your people, the easier it will be to discern their motivation.
  5. Help create a proposal – If it’s a great idea, don’t be a glory hog. Help the person(s) who had the idea develop a proposal to submit to senior leadership. Put their name on it. If you want to make it a team effort, that’s fine. Just don’t make it look like you’re the hero. That’s crap leadership and it will come back and bite you in the nether regions. I promise!!
What are your thoughts? Would you add anything to this list?