Tag : Corporate rebels

In a world without rebels

Our systems — be they companies, government agencies, schools, churches or healthcare organizations — become brittle, rigid, bureaucratic, and sometimes even dangerous when there are no rebels or change makers who have the courage to say, “This isn’t the right way.” Look no further than General Motors’ recent debacle. This inspirational post reflects on what might happen in a world without rebels.

CEO Nancy Schlichting: find the disruptive people

“Find the disruptive people in your organization. They have the ideas that will drive change,” said Nancy Schlichting, CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, a $4 billion healthcare organization with 23,000 employees.

Speaking at the BIF8 innovation conference last week in Providence, RI, Nancy shared what has helped her transform an ailing health care system and create innovations in health care such as a new  $360 million health and wellness facility that feels more like a luxury hotel than a hospital.

Transforming healthcare is all about leadership, she said. Her leadership approach focuses on creating an “incredible” environment for every person to reach their full potential.  How she has created such an  environment:

  • Making a large organization feel small.  When the board approached her about being CEO of the health care system she was reluctant to take it because she likes being involved with people and creating working environments that are positive, personal and open-minded. The board assured her that being CEO of a health care would not preclude how she like to lead.
  • Saying yes to unusual ideas, like an employee who wanted to be able to creating fun drawings  on the disposable gowns worn by the kidney dialysis staff. “This woman creates this amazing designs on her own time on the weekends. On Monday mornings the staff can’t wait to see what she has that week for them.”
  • Helping people who are disruptors. These, she says, are the people with the ideas that can help you change and transform. One example she shared: a surgeon who wanted to put health kiosks in churches in the Detroit community.  Doing so has been a hugely successful way to help people learn about health and wellness.
  • Hiring people in with non-traditional backgrounds to help you see things in new and different ways. “This is essential,” Nancy stressed. One example: she hired Gerard van Grinsven, a long time Ritz Carlton executive to be CEO of the new Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, even though Bernard had no health care experience. His “otherness” has been a significant reason the new hospital has been so successful in its ambitious goals. (Here’s a link to a video of Gerard sharing his story about going from high-end hotels to opening a hospital.
  • Bringing together different thinkers. Creative ideas happen at the intersections, said Nancy. Bringing different thinkers together across silos creates better ideas faster.

Hearing her talk I was reminding of the wonderful poem by Kaylin Haught, “God Says Yes To Me.”  Imagine if CEOs said yes, yes, yes to more of their employees, especially the disruptive corporate rebels?

Not only would organizations be able to innovate and change more quickly, a wonderful sense of joy would permeate the workplace — even in high-stress environments in struggling urban areas, like the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

 

The appearance of diversity vs. the impact of diversity

Carmen Medina and I are on a mission to help rebels in the workforce be more successful. We believe these outsider thinkers inside big organizations have the answers leaders need to adapt, grow, thrive, even survive. As part of our journey into helping rebels we’ve been asking ourselves all kinds of questions to understand why leaders don’t listen more to rebels. Yesterday Carmen posted about her recent epiphany on Rebels at Work. Here’s her “aha” about diversity initiatives and rebels.

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As most of you know, I served for 32 years at the Central Intelligence Agency. During my last ten years there, I would attend recruiting and outreach events where I would answer questions about my career at the Agency. Given who I am, I was often asked this question: “Could you talk about what it was like being a woman and a minority at the Agency?” And I always gave the same answer: “Actually, neither of those was as much of an issue for me as just being a different thinker. Somehow I often saw things differently from everyone else.”

I was recalling this last week when I was thinking about what I might say at a couple of events I’ve been invited to speak at associated with Hispanic Heritage Month, which starts this coming week. (It’s actually not a month, but a 30-day period from 15 September to 15 October.) And as I said out loud the previous paragraph, it came to me like the most gigantic “DUH” moment you can imagine. POW! A giant fist bopped me on the  head.

I had gotten it exactly backwards. It wasn’t that being a different thinker was more of a career issue than being a woman or a minority. I was a different thinker in large part BECAUSE I was a woman and a Latina.

 

Q. You mean that it took you until one month before your 58th Birthday to figure that out!!

A. Sadly, yes.

Many sincere attempts to diversify organizations fail because the organization’s leadership does not appreciate that any significant diversity effort is in fact an organizational change effort. It could very well end up being transformational for the company.

When different types of people enter the workforce–women, minorities–many actually become default Rebels at Work, although they often are not aware of their dual identities. People with different backgrounds should bring different perspectives and ideas with them. (Although truth be told, many learn as early as high school to stop volunteering their different ideas when they realize they are not welcomed.) And yet you often hear leaders say: “It’s a shame about so-and-so. Some interesting ideas but he doesn’t quite know how to fit in.” or You have great potential but you need to learn to be more corporate.”

And that’s how diversity initiatives degrade and become more about the Appearance of Diversity than about the Impact of Diversity.

The organization has made space for people who are different but no space for their different ideas. Helping Rebels be more effective at work is in fact a diversity initiative. And increasing the Impact of Diversity on an organization is in fact a Rebel initiative.

Anger: when you’re mad as hell at work

Anger is powerful in a good and bad way.  It can motivate us to act and it can derail our good intentions and credibility.

Carne Ross, former British diplomat and founder of the Independent Diplomat, quit the British Foreign Service due to his anger over how issues in Iraq and Kosovo were handled by official powers.

The Museum of Modern Art’’s Paola Antonelli nailed an interview that led to her position as senior curator at MOMA by angrily addressing an interviewer’s dismissive statement on design. “Anger can make you do interesting things. Beneficial good can come from positive anger,” she has said

Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors, started an open source automotive company based partly on his anger with America’s dependence on foreign oil – and his tour of duty as an elite Marine sniper in the Middle East.

Anger helps us see what we deeply care about, and it pushes us to act on those beliefs.

How anger derails, hurts our credibility

Anger can also trigger us to say and do things that make us say and do stupid things.

Frustrations can grow so acute that we lash out when we and our bosses, colleagues and/or task forces least expect it, surprising everyone, especially ourselves.  We feel momentarily victorious finally saying what needed to be said.  The outburst relieves pent-up stress. Then we realize that we have damaged ourselves.  People have paid attention to our anger, but not necessarily our point.

When someone or something sets us off our heart starts racing, our jaw clenches, we sweat, our mouths go dry,  and the voice in our head barks at us like a drill sergeant, “Set the record straight right this minute, damn it.  Don’t be a sissy.  Give it to them.”

In a rage we say things that attack. We come across as judgmental and hot headed.  When we spew our anger, people usually run for cover or shut down as they wait for us to finish our rant.

Nothing good comes from these outbursts. Most damaging is that our anger gives others the ammunition to discredit us, labeling us as loose cannons, blowhards, short fuses, temperamental, overly emotional, hot headed, immature, unstable, lacking judgment, and maybe even an ass.   It is all code for implying not so subtly that we are not a person the organization can, or should, trust.

What a mess.

When you feel you’re about to erupt, call on behaviors that help you cool down before spouting off.  This requires enormous discipline and much practice. While I’ve  gotten better at doing this through years of experience, there are times I err.

Techniques for managing anger

Here are some techniques to consier. See what works for you, and practice, practice, practice. By controlling your anger while also finding motivation from it, you’ll be able to act with more credibility, calm and effectiveness. You’ll also be more receptive to understanding the real obstacles you need to deal with.

  • No personal attacks. Never, ever attack the person and use hurtful, rude, derogatory language towards them.  Personal attacks cut the deepest and are the hardest to recover from.  Go after the issue,  but not people.
  •  What’s it like to be them?  Try to understand what it’s like to be the person (or group) you’re angry with. What are they trying to protect? What makes them uncomfortable?  What are they afraid of?  How people talk about something conveys more information than the words themselves.  Listen for the emotion beneath the words. This empathy will help neutralize some of your anger and help you see things more clearly.
  •  Find the data: Related to the above point, consider the upsetting idea, opinion, decision or person as a piece of data to be examined. Even if it makes your bile rise, there’s something to be understood in why the view is making you angry. Put on your anthropologist hat and try to observe what the real issues are.  This calms down the negative anger and prevents you from lashing out. You’ll glean valuable insights by taking this approach, and you’ll earn credibility by showing people that they can express ideas without someone dismissing them or biting their heads off.
  • Everyone is right:  When angry we often believe we’re right, the other side is wrong.  No helpful conversations can happen when we hold this belief. Everyone’s views (and underlying emotions and threat triggers) are valid.   (Unless there is some excellent research proves otherwise. If that’s the case, show them the data and get onto objective territory as fast as you can.)  If you acknowledge that the other side’s view is valid, they are more likely to appreciate that your views may be valid. “Your views on this topic are valid.  It is risky to change a process that’s been in place for years.  Similarly, my views are valid too. There are other types of risks if we don’t begin to change this process.”   This sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t especially with the Bureaucratic Black Belts. But it’s a practice worth practicing.
  • Acknowledge the tension and disagreement Disarm yourself and the situation by acknowledging that tensions are high and disagreements are real.
  •  “We’re all feeling frustrated and on edge abut this.  How about we go around the room and everyone shares what they’re feeling in a sentence or a couple of words? No interrupting, just everyone calmly telling us his or her position.”
  • Or, acknowledge that you’re at an impasse and suggest, “We’re not making progress because emotions are running high, even those that are unstated but bubbling under the surface.  Should we adjourn so we can all cool off?
  • “Are there any data or research or subject matter experts we could bring into the conversation to help us see more clearly?”
  • “Should we get an objective outsider to help facilitate our conversations so that we can resolve this situation?
  •  These questions recognize the tension and take an active approach to finding ways to address them.  Often people suppress their anger, going passive while the frustration continues to build, increasing the chances of a harmful emotional outburst when you least expect it.
  • Quarantine your email and your mouth: Impose a 24-hour no-email, no furious phone call quarantine on yourself. Take a walk, get out of the office. If pressed by the other person to respond, say “I have to reflect on this before being able to respond in a helpful way.” In other words, quarantine your mouth.
  •  Make a list:  Go someplace away from people and write fast channeling your emotion and trying to find answers about what to do next that would help you move forward. Writing while angry cools you down, while also capturing potentially valuable ideas. (My best ideas come when I’m angry or feeling vulnerable. The head turns off, the smart heart kicks in.) Some prompts that have been helpful to us:
  • What 10 things worry people most about this idea?
  • What 10 pieces of objective data or credible anecdotes would help people open up their thinking around this?
  • What are 10 things I can do to move the idea ahead that don’t require approvals and meetings with people who oppose the idea?
  • What 10 people could I talk to who could help me see a way to move ahead?
  •  What are the 10 worst things that will happen if I abandon this idea?

The paradox of anger

Lastly, accept that some anger will always be present and powerful for rebels, change agents and innovators. .  The secret is being aware of  the paradox of anger. It can power and it can derail. Use the power, and find ways to stop yourself from doing and saying stupid things when angry.

 

Neutralizing Bureaucratic Black Belts

Never, ever publicly embarrass, threaten or upstage a Bureaucratic Black Belt (BBB), those protectors of the status quo, upholders of processes and procedures, fighters for following the rules without exceptions, righteous minimizers of risk.

Similarly never start a fight with them. You will lose.

BBB’s can be formidable foes. You may never win them over or convince them to approve your idea.  The best case is to neutralize them so that they don’t fight you and your rebel ideas.  By neutralizing you’ll have a better chance of finding a way to work around them.

This is an important lesson for rebels, mavericks, change agents and innovators. The BBB’s are often our greatest obstacles. Not necessarily the official decision makers, but the people who can drain our energy and derail our plans. Selectively involving these gatekeepers is a necessary step in removing obstacles.

BBB’s hold all kinds of positions, though you will find more in Legal, Finance, and Human Resources, Customer Service, IT, Quality Management, and Environmental departments.  If a person’s job involves any sort of regulations, compliance, product quality or public reputation risks, they are more likely to be a BBB of some degree.  They have to, really. Don’t blame them for doing their jobs.

Which brings us to the first technique for neutralizing BBB’s.

Understand what it’s like to be them. 

Put yourself in their position. What are they held accountable for?  What happens if they make a mistake? Don’t properly enforce a government regulation?  Not follow a standard procedure and get audited?  They succeed by being fearful of what could go wrong. If they mess up, public humiliation for the entire organization is at risk.

If they’re not born that way, they become wired to say “No” to anything even slightly out of the norm.

We rebels see opportunities, they see danger.

So empathize with them. Feel their pain. (We know this can be challenging especially if you’ve been foiled continually by BBB’s, which is likely.)

Bring this empathy to your conversations with them, letting them know that you get how difficult it must be to be them.  “It must get frustrating and lonely being the person who has to always remind people of the risks,” you might say.  All people want to be seen, to know that people understand what it’s like to be them.  Especially BBBs, who may have an even more difficult role at work than rebels.

This empathy is likely to ease the tension, perhaps put them at slightly more ease with you.

Who is The Person Most Revered?

Also helpful is to understand who in the organization the BBB respects, fears, wants to please. There is always someone.  Find out who that person is, what’s important to him or her, and who or what influences him or her.

Then  invoke the name of the Person Who Is Revered when dealing with the BBB. Better yet, figure out how to get support from the Person Who Is Revered, and tell the BBB that so and so supports your idea.  The tiger is likely to back down a bit. Not entirely, but enough that you’ll find more space to navigate.

Ask questions vs. sell your ideas

BBB’s, like most of us, like to be recognized as smart and influential, so do feed this need by asking the BBB for advice. (This also helps you figure out what this person most wants or fears, more data points to factor into your neutralizing strategy.)  You might say, “Diane (The Revered One) is interested in seeing how we might be able to make this idea work. If you were in my shoes, what would you do?  What advice can you give me that might be helpful?”

If the BBB says something annoying and unhelpful like, “Diane should know better. That idea will never work here,” The next question to ask,  “What would have to be in place for the idea to have any outside chance of working?”   This data will help inform what you need to do, or how to position the idea.  Questions are your friends in dealing with BBBs, as is listening. 

Selective disclosure and conversation goals

Know, too, that you have won some points by involving the BBB. These people get angry and become stronger foes when you ignore them. Which is what we’d like to do because they can be so unpleasant and FRUSTRATING.  Understand when and how to keep them in the loop. Disclose what you must, but not everything.

It’s also important to not wing it when going into meetings: Have a goal in mind whenever you have a conversation with a BBB. What do you want them to do, or not to do, after the conversation happens?  The more clear and precise your goal, the more likely you’ll achieve it.

Free flowing, unstructured conversations with BBBs can be dangerous because we rebels tend to get passionate and excited about what’s possible.  Passionate possibilities send warning signals to the BBB. “Danger! Danger!  This person is not staying inside the lines; they are even talking about painting the lines orange instead of regulation blue. Beware of what she is saying. Stop thinking about what she is saying and launch into why this is not possible. Shut her down. Now.”

Lastly, thank BBBs when they are helpful. Public recognition for their efforts, especially with The Person Most Revered, will go a long way in making sure that they leave you alone.

Remember, BBB’s  are unlikely to EVER fully support you. You just don’t want them to stop you.

 

You cannot win over Bureaucratic Black Belts.

Your job is to neutralize them so they don’t try to kill your idea.

 

 

Without an irritant there can be no pearl

Thanks to Michael H. Samuelson, author and founding CEO of The Health & Wellness Institute, for allowing us to share his 5th observation from his eBook, ” Wellness in the Workplace 2.0: 10 Key Observations from 35 Years in the Field.” His current title is one we love, “Chief Irritant.”

Let’s be honest. It’s much easier—and certainly safer—to sit back, complain, and wait for others to take action than it is to do something. That is, of course, unless you have passion, commitment, laser determination and God on your side.

Well, actually, skip that last one. She’ is on everyone’s side. At least that’s the pitch that supports the military-industrial complex (we should have listened to Ike) and looks nice on all of the banners.

Let’s just stick with passion, commitment and laser determination. When these three driving forces are present you can’t sit still, you can’t wait for someone else, and you can’t shut up. You stir and spit, shout and stomp your feet. You seize the torch that has been passed to you and your generation. You are Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. You take the crown out of the Pope’s hands and you crown yourself. Time is fleeting, daylight is burning, there are causes to advance and worlds to conquer!
“Emperor” too much? Okay. How about CI? Chief Irritant. You are the sand that produces the nacre that builds the pearl. So, let someone else sit back, complain, and wait for others to take action…just below the surface there are pearls in-waiting and you are the irritant that makes it all happen.

Let the spitting begin! Caution:

Sophocles was right, “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” As I have stated before, there are times when the boon, the prize, the newly found wisdom you bring to “fix things” is rejected. No matter the treasure, it is still disruptive in a world that knows not, or little, of its existence or value. What you may view as “The Answer” may well be viewed by others — particularly those in control — as the newest problem (read: YOU) to be dealt with, swiftly.

It’s no fun being spat upon. Trust me, on this one. I’ve been there. I’ve stimulated copious amount of spray, toweled off, and lived to irritate again. Being a CI is not always an easy ride but I like to modestly think—modestly—that along with picking up a few dents in my armor, I’ve also triggered the formation of a few pearls here and there…

10 Ways to Succeed as a Chief Irritant…Without Really Trying

1.    Fasten Your Armor (you’re going to need it)

2.    Pursue Your Need for Popularity Elsewhere

3.    If You’re Not the Boss, Find a Champion in the “C” Suite

4.    Practice “No-Oblique-Speak”

5.    Compromise on Tactics…Not Ethics or Integrity

6.    Irritate Without Judgment or Arrogance

7.    Beware the Ides of March (et tu ______ )

8.    Have a “No Jerks Allowed” Rule…Embrace the Spirituality of Imperfection

9.    If you think everyone around you is a jerk…Look in the Mirror

10. Repeat after me, “Spit is Good”

5 questions about rebel thinkers

Eric Pennington recently interviewed me for his Epic Living blog. Here’s the conversation. Click here to see the original.

Why do rebel thinkers so often feel miserable inside of their organizations?

Three overwhelming reasons. Restlessness, loneliness, and self-doubt.

We’re a restless bunch, always seeing new ways to do things better, easier, faster, better. Yes, I say better twice because we’re wired to keep raising the bar on excellence. Needless to say our ideas and relentless energy often exhaust or threaten our colleagues and bosses. So people often keep us at arm’s length, even those who appreciate the value we bring. This can feel lonely and lead to self-doubt, “Why aren’t they moving now on  this idea? Am I off base? Am I not communicating the value well enough? Is it me or is it the idea? Why can’t I just slow down and take it more slowly like everyone else? Do I belong in this organization?”

What value do most rebel thinkers bring to the table?

 Rebels have the courage to name the elephants in the room, see new ways to solve problems, bring outside ideas into the organization, and be the first to try new approaches.  My research has found that rebels call out problems others are afraid to (92%) and challenge assumptions and sacred cow practices (92%), both of which are essential to real innovation, but often shunned in organizations.

The other overlooked value rebels bring is devotion to duty. Rebels care more about their organizations than most people. That’s why we ask the difficult questions that most people feel more comfortable avoiding, and risk being snubbed for suggesting unpopular ideas.  We want our organizations to be the very best and we believe that our colleagues and we have what it takes to achieve more than our competitors.

(see the following chart for more)

GoodvsBadRebels
Why are many managers afraid/intimidated by rebel thinkers?

We tend to trigger three threats that are wired into every person’s pre-frontal cortex, including those of our bosses.  Our ideas often threaten managers’ sense of status, certainty and autonomy.

An overwhelming number of managers believe that they are supposed to create the strategy and have the answers — and employees are meant to execute on those ideas. Not question them. I’m the boss. I’ve got the senior vice president title. Hence, I know more and you should respect me for it.  It sounds silly in this day and age of empowerment and collaboration, but protecting our status can lead all of us to act in illogical ways.

We humans are also wired to crave certainty. So when we rebels present innovative ideas that have no best practice precedents or haven’t been Six Sigma’d we trigger fears about certainty. Managers worry, “How will we know this will work? What if we make a mistake?” You get the picture.

The last threat is autonomy. Our managers like doing things their way. To suggest something different is to violate their sense of control and autonomy over what they know and like.

What are the consequences of not engaging with the rebel thinker?

Missed opportunities, a complacent corporate culture, and a talent deficit.

Rebel thinkers see risks and opportunities earlier than most people. This is a tremendously valuable competence in age of such rapid change and smaller windows to seize and capitalize on opportunities. One way to look at rebels is as your “intrapreneurs” bringing entrepreneurial thinking, speed, and competitive instincts inside the organization. They spot ideas and see ways to make them real.

The other consequences are that shutting out rebel thinking sends a signal to the organization that creativity, diversity of thinking and change are not welcome. When that happens, your best talent usually leaves, and the culture becomes complacent. Not rocking the boat. Accepting good enough as good enough.  In today’s hyper competitive world, few organizations can survive with a “good enough” approach.

What is most surprising about corporate rebels?

Rebels are not motivated by formal recognition or financial incentives, nor are they “troublemakers.” They’re self-motivated to want to make a difference to their organization and to solve things that are not working as well as they could. My research found that just 27% want formal recognition. What they do want is to be asked their opinions more often and be invited to work on teams to solve specific issues. They don’t want to just talk about ideas, opportunities and problems, the want to make things happen.

The second surprising thing is how many closeted rebel thinkers there are in companies. People are yearning to do more – and they know more about what to do than most executive teams realize.

Mobilizing support by being disruptive

Last week I flipped through the University of New Hampshire alumni magazine when it came in the mail, scanning my class notes to see who died, re-married, got an interesting new job. Another page caught my eye. “Being Disruptive — in a Good Way”  by UNH president Mark Huddleston.

Mark explained that he had heard Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, speak at “The Future of Public Universities” conference — and that speech “wowed” him, and inspired him to begin creating a  disruptive new educational model for UNH. A model that would help more students learn — for less.

What if we allowed online instruction to provide, where appropriate, the foundational knowledge, and directed students’ time on campus toward learning activities that maximize the benefits of these mentor relationships?

As online instruction improves, might we not devote more class time to teaching methods that take real advantage of students’ time together, such as team projects, discussions and critiques?

The article went on to talk about UNH’s new eUNH initiative to identify ways to use online learning to improve teaching and help students progress faster.

Aside from being intrigued with disruptive models, here’s what I liked about Mark’s article. It mobilized me to want to write a check to support the university.

Few of us want to work for — or financially support –  organizations that are plodding along, doing the same things well. We want to be inspired by leaders and organizations that create new ways to support visions we care about.  And who have the courage, leadership skills and discipline to move forward despite often formidable opposition.

(Sadly, last April the New Hampshire chapter of the union American Association of University Professors gave a 129 to 72 “no confidence” vote in his leadership.  The change involved in disruptive innovation inevitably threatens some who would like things to continue as they have been.)

  • If you want to mobilize supporters, do more than more of the same.
  • When a leader has the courage to create disruptive models, step up and support him or her. It’s lonely being a game changer.

Now to write that check…

So I read the board the rebel riot act…

“I was so frustrated with the board and executive team’s resistance to new ideas that I finally read them the rebel riot act,” an insurance executive told me.

“What happened? What was in it?”

“I told them that we’re losing our internal entrepreneurs, the very people we need if we want to be able to innovate. We’re at great risk at falling behind the competition. We either change the culture by seeding innovation rebels throughout the company or our best people are going to continue to leave.

“Then I told them what I wanted. A one-year funded pilot to help put innovation rebels in place. I showed them a plan, expected results and how we will measure results.”

Paul had been talking about the need for culture change for a couple of years. But it took reading a rebel riot act to wake the executive team up.

The reverse rebel riot act?

The origins of “The Riot Act” were an English law, enacted by Parliament in 1715. If more than 12 people “tumultuously” assembled and refused to disperse within an hour of a magistrate reading a proclamation, they would be charged as felons.

In the last century “reading the rebel riot act” has come to be a common expression. It means the boss was setting an employee straight, or giving the whole team a necessary kick in the ass, a wake up call to stop whining or slacking off.

Reading the riot act is like a high-intensity intervention because no one seems to be listening.

In 1915 the coach of the Kansas City Rebels baseball team read his players a riot act.  The Pittsburgh Press reported:

“Manager Oakes, a conservative, peaceful manager, has dropped the mask of easiness and is fighting mad…instead of delivering heart-to-heart talks, for which he is famous, he delivered a flow of cutting southern eloquence that sunk deep into the hides of his players…It was all to the point — very much so — and in plain words meant that the men on the team would have to play baseball and play it right or there would be several checks shy when payday rolled around.”

Today we’re starting to see a different kind of rebel act. Corporate rebels reading the riot act to management to wake them up to needed changes.

Greg Smith certainly read the riot act very publicly to Goldman Sachs when he published his “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs” Op-Ed a couple of weeks ago.

If your company  has a transparent corporate culture, people can read the riot act as a way to create positive change, like Paul at the large insurance company. Reading the riot act means that you still care about your organization. You want to help change and be part of the change.

And if your culture is  closed culture, not willing to listen? Well, that’s when you get lambasted in The New York Times and throughout social media. Like Goldman Sachs. Like the controversy at the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

What makes a good rebel riot act?

  • Succinct summary of the problem and its risk to the business. No mincing words.
  • Data, or at least several credible anecdotes, to support the point. This can’t be viewed as your opinion. It is you showing a pattern that has negative consequences.
  • A proposed plan to correct the problem. If you’re going to read the rebel riot act, be prepared to ask for what you think can solve the problem.
  • Willingness to lead the change. What you expect to accomplish and by when.

The more a rebel act hits on what the organization really values, the more likely people will be to listen to your proposed alternative approach.  The successful “reverse rebel riot acts”  I’ve seen that hit a chord zero in on:

  • Hurt revenues
  • Lose talent (especially talent that generates revenue)
  • Fall behind the competition
  • Break promises
  • Hurt the company’s reputation
  • Potentially embarrass high-profile executives

Be ready for potential fallout

Reading the rebel act to established powers that be is risky.  Paul succeeded in getting a one-year innovation rebel pilot funded. But he knows that if he is unsuccessful, he will likely be asked to leave the company.

In trying to do a leveraged buy-out of an employer,  I read the riot act about needed leadership changes. I lost, and felt the need to leave.

In other cases, rebels are labeled as “trouble makers” after reading the rebel riot acts. A lonely place to be.

Yet it is often possible to rebuild bridges, especially if your riot act was in support of the organization’s vision and goals, which  always makes good sense.

Take a deep breathe, and remember what Thomas Jefferson once said: “On matters of style, swim with the current. On matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Sometimes it takes reading a rebel riot act to stand like a rock.