The Value of a Disruptive Employee


A "disruptor" is someone who thinks differently.
A “disruptor” is someone who thinks differently.

You may wonder why I think a disruptive employee is valuable. Most of us want to minimize or get rid of employees who are disruptive in the workplace. They cause lost productivity, bad feelings, and disputes and can generally be a pain-in-the-ass. Well I am not talking about that kind of employee. I am talking about another form of disruptive.
Disruptive Innovation
Disruptive innovation is generally considered to be a method of market advancement. According to Wikipedia:

A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in the new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market.

That definition is interesting in and of itself, and is certainly something that the strategic HR professional should be aware of and understand. But I think it has HR implications beyond just making you a better business person. I think it can be applied to the organization and the organization’s culture and here is where the disruptive employee becomes valuable.
Culture Resists Change
According to Stephen Millett, author of Managing the Future, So, corporate culture and assets provide stability and resist change. This works well when customers remain stable too- but they usually don’t. Macroscopic trends change customers.” Most of us would agree that we look to corporate culture to provide such stability; a “sameness” if you will, that provides some cohesiveness to the group. We even administer cultural fit profiles in our selection process to make sure that employees will “fit” the job and work well with others in the organization.
But, as Millett says, culture, in providing that “sameness”, resists change. This is especially true if the culture has resulted in a successful company. People don’t want to mess with success. Eventually though the success may wane. This is where having a disruptive employee may be valuable.
A disruptor in this sense is not someone who causes turmoil or is nasty. Rather this is person is there to question the status quo. They do not fit into the culture; they do question authority and assumptions. They do things differently. They think differently. There should be one in marketing. There should be one in Human Resources. There should be one that reports to the CEO.
Finding, identifying and attracting these people will take some extra work. They may not look like your typical employee, but then again they might, but they will think differently. Giving them the cultural profile will show they don’t fit, but that doesn’t mean you discard them as a candidate. If they have the smarts and the backbone needed to buck the status quo you may find them to be one of your most valuable employees. Your challenge will be keeping them interested in you.
Final Note
While looking around for information I came across a cool site called No Vacation Required. These guys would be great disruptors.

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