Organisations who have aggressive growth strategies often look to their most talented employees to help them drive growth. These organisations also regularly look to promote a culture that they believe will facilitate progression, supporting and celebrating those individuals who behave in line with a ‘cultural ideal’. However, in doing so, organisations may stifle or underestimate the input of talent mavericks - individuals who buck the trend and shirk organisational conventions.
In the world of sport, the Head Coach of the English national rugby team Stuart Lancaster has insisted upon a strict code of conduct, stressing the importance of team ‘culture’. Since this, Danny Cipriani, Manu Tuilagi and Dylan Hartley have all been guilty of disciplinary issues. Can these high levels of repeat offences among his players be dismissed as mere coincidence? Or should the extent to which a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy ensures ‘cultural fit’ be debated?
It is arguable that organisational cultures can be dysfunctional in the workplace if all employees simply toe the line; desperate to conform to organisational standards. An example of this is Toshiba’s recent profit scandals1. The scandal has been at least partially attributed to a corporate culture in which employees would do anything to meet the expectations of their superiors. As such, whilst it is often beneficial to reward and appreciate cultural role models, it is equally vital to acknowledge the value of talent mavericks, who are typically less likely to conform to cultural standards at all times.
The truth is, unorthodox mavericks who might not ‘fit’ into the organisational culture exist in many organisations. Whilst perceived as difficult to manage, talent mavericks can bring different ideas and approaches to the table, many of which can be invaluable to creativity and organisational breakthroughs. Steve Jobs has in fact been labelled as a ‘brilliant maverick’2, with imitation and uniformity being unlikely to give organisations a performance edge in the competitive business environment. With this in mind, maverick talent is particularly important when a change of direction or aggressive growth is desired, as these individuals are most likely to challenge the status-quo and trigger innovation.
While unacceptable workplace behaviour cannot be condoned, there may be value in acknowledging the value of talented individuals whose potential might be doubted because they aren’t representative of the organisation’s desired culture. It seems that talent mavericks, however frustrating at times, should be recognised as a potentially invaluable driver of organisational growth and innovation. As one business leader has suggested in Lane4’s own research “If you employ people that are smart and work very hard, you churn out clones who are critical to the business. But if you want game changers, that’s a very different type of person.”3
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(2) BBC News, Steve Jobs – ‘a brilliant, inspirational maverick’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/click_online/9610314.stm, 7 October 2011
(3) Lane4 (2013). Talent Tactics: How Can You Plug The Talent Gap? White Paper.