Would you employ a ‘disruptive talent’?

Editor’s Blog Posted 24/07/15
Taking on maverick characters is the key to success, according to someone who should know...

Sir Richard Branson proclaimed this week that more businesses should hire ‘disruptive talents’ in order to stay at the cutting edge of their industry.

Presumably, by this he means people like himself - innovative, entrepreneurial and forward-thinking types who refuse to allow their talents to be curtailed by the niceties of business relationships and employee management. The Virgin tycoon claims that if he found himself employed by a company that failed to appreciate his unconventional approach, he’d tell them: “If you don’t deal with me well, I’m going to go off and set up my own business and I’ll end up competing with you.”

If anyone is a good example of how people with ‘disruptive’ attributes can make good on their word, it’s Sir Richard. In fact, many people who have, or believe they have, these traits are probably running their own businesses anyway. But how practical is it to give creative freedom to employees who refuse to tow the party line? And indeed, where do you draw that line?

Few people would disagree that bright, intuitive team members with maverick tendencies can - as long as their talent lives up to the attitude - make a significant contribution to the evolution of a business. But our definition of the term ‘disruptive’ is probably key to deciding whether a certain employee is worth the aggravation or not. If a worker is bursting with great ideas and routinely exceeds expectation, that’s great, but the price employers are prepared to pay for that is highly subjective.

If ‘disruptive’ means failing to consult their superiors before making decisions, or implementing their own strategies that don’t fit with the company’s policy, the business owner would need to make a commercial decision about whether they can live with that. However, more mundane examples of disruptiveness - such as breaking the company code of conduct, behaving in an unacceptable fashion towards other staff members or expecting the “one rule for me, one rule for everyone else” treatment - present a greater dilemma for employers.

To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, it is the unreasonable man (or woman) who changes the world because they refuse to settle for the status quo. But if progress comes at the expense of other staff members’ peace of mind, finding a solution can be tricky. It would be interesting to ask Sir Richard how he would handle himself as an employee. Would he allow a maverick to tell him how to run the business he built up from scratch, in order to escape the confines of other people’s rules? Food for thought, perhaps…

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