Deviants as Innovation Drivers

Sept. 10, 2009
So-called rogue employees may instead be champions of change.

Some of your most valuable employees may also be your most deviant. That's the word from Bella Galperin, a University of Tampa (Fla.) associate professor of management.

Galperin describes deviance as voluntary behavior that violates organizational norms and can threaten the well-being of an organization. In an early August presentation, she argued that deviance can be constructive for an organization, and employees who don't follow an organization's norms may be at the root of successful innovation.

"Employees who break the rules and cause harm to the organization are also your organization's potential change agents," Galperin said. "They will break the rules to increase the well-being of your organization."

Given the increased importance of the nation's "creativity economy," companies that develop constructive deviance may help secure their position and spur innovation, the professor said.

"While it is important for organizations to make active efforts in decreasing the occurrence of deviant acts and preventing destructive behaviors, it is equally important for organizations to focus their energies on identifying the constructive deviants," she said. "These individuals can be change agents and bring innovation to your organization."

Galperin cited former General Electric CEO Jack Welch as a constructive deviant and Worldcom CEO Bernie Ebbers as a destructive deviant.

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