The next time your great idea at work elicits silence or eye rolls, you might just pity those co-workers. Fresh research indicates they don’t even know what a creative idea looks like and that creativity, hailed as a positive change agent, actually makes people squirm.
“How is it that people say they want creativity but in reality often reject it?” said Jack Goncalo, ILR School assistant professor of organizational behavior and co-author of research to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science. The paper reports on two 2010 experiments at the University of Pennsylvania involving more than 200 people.
There’s an unnoticed population of employees in business today. Strangely enough, they’re also the majority.
The diagram below illustrates the labels that organizations often use (knowingly or unknowingly) to classify their employees. The y-axis focuses on how a professional is measured on meeting the organizational performance criteria that fuel the business engine. The x-axis centers on how the professional fares on meeting the expectations of the human engine. In each of the four corners, we find the Stars, Sinners, Low Performers, and Saints. I’ll go into more detail on the four corners of the diagram in my next post, but for now, I want to bring to your attention those falling in the middle of the diagram — the Stalwarts.
These solid citizens make up the majority of employees in most organizations. The odds are you may find yourself among the Stalwarts at some point in your career, no matter how high-revving your internal drive is. If so, you probably will find yourself questioning your significance.
That’s because, despite the number of Stalwarts in an organization, these good, solid citizens of the organization go largely unnoticed. Few leaders think about the motivation, inclusion, and explicit career management of the solid performers. One Fortune 500 leader said, “I thought that it couldn’t be true that so many workers are systematically ignored through no fault of their own (except for the fact that they may not be politically astute or they don’t draw attention to themselves). But the more I reflected on my own company, the more I realized that I spend all my time worrying about the high performers and assume that everything is OK with everyone else.”
These two things are connected. The stalwarts are what I call the doers – the middle of the bell curve that get things done but do not easily take to new ideas. Innovations are disruptive and these stalwarts hate disruption to their routines and processes.
It is hard to be stalwart – to making sure the important basic parts of an organization get accomplished – if things are changing all the time. A stalwart is the slow moving but determined tortoise to the disruptive hare. In most cases, a company succeeds because its stalwarts make the ideas of the disruptors a reality.
But that does not mean they like it. As I mentioned, the stalwarts do not take to innovation rapidly. They need to be shown by someone they trust from the community – the thought leaders – that it is worthwhile to adopt a new technology or innovation.
A company of disruptors will not get anything done, because there are not enough stalwarts to realize the ideas. But a company of stalwarts will not be innovative, because there are not enough new ideas being presented.
Companies that are run by disruptors – usually many start-ups – do not understand that the stalwarts must be supported. And companies run by stalwarts – usually the more mature organizations – do not understand that disruptors must be supported.
The two types often do a poor job communicating their needs. So the first article describes what happens with a company where the stalwarts are in charge – an organization resistant to new ideas.
And the second article discusses a problem when the disruptors tolally run things – those that actually get things accomplished are ignored.
A truly successful, adaptive and resilient company knows how to support both types, has the right balance of each and has identified thought leaders respected by both groups.
These will be the 21st Century organizations that will succeed.