In the work world today, people often need to go rogue in order to get things done. The online urban dictionary defines going rogue as “To cease to follow orders; to act on one’s own, usually against expectation or instruction. To pursue one’s own interests.”
This may sound reckless and extreme, but I interpret it to mean “daring to take initiatives that go against policy and doing what seems best from your point of view”. The word expectation is important. It refers to the extent to which our minds are tuned into what the organization or the world around us considers to be normal.
You can go rogue inside an organization. You can go rogue by leaving the organization.
Among the points in this article, I’ll talk about practicing serial mastery (inspiration: Lynda Gratton), building a personal holding environment (inspiration: Gianpiero Petriglieri and two colleagues) and I’ll share a little about my own experience. I hope you’ll share yours in the comments.
This rogue mindset was illustrated in research data that I shared in 2016 in my article “Tracking the Trends in Bringing Our Own Devices to Work” in the Harvard Business Review. My data showed that the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend, forbidden by most organizations, was more prevalent in companies with high-performing customer-oriented workforces than in the average company. These companies, the very ones where people were “going against” corporate guidelines, also had higher rates of collaboration.
The customer-facing role is a precursor of how many of us will live or are already living in a world of work that sales and customer service people have inhabited for years. Here are three characteristics of this way of work life:
1 – Living on the edges
Customer-facing people operate on the edges of the organization, often disconnected physically and sometimes digitally from the rest of the workforce.
2 – Incentivized by performance
Their compensation is in part based on incentives—individual, team-based or both—and is determined by how successful they are.
3 – Constant change
They spend more time with customers than with their own colleagues. They frequently visit customer sites; and when they are working on specific projects on site, become immersed in different work cultures. “The way we do things here” varies, from customer to customer site.
This context led to customer-facing people choosing to use their personal technologies—smartphones, tablets, apps and cloud-services—more than the official corporate choices. Why was this?
- Free? Was it because, being disconnected from the rest of the organization, they were freer to do as they please?
- Need for speed? Was it because their compensation was in part based on clearly measurable results, so they needed to work faster and better than they could with official corporate tools?
- Adaptive? Was it because they were are exposed to many different ways of working and therefore did not hesitate to take initiatives and do their own thing?
I remember leading a workshop over 10 years ago in a 60,000+ workforce industrial organization. The salespeople were describing how they shared documents using a public, consumer cloud service. The IT people were astonished, outraged even. “You can’t do that.” “It’s against policy.” “It’s too risky.” The salespeople responded: “No problem! Give us a way to share documents when we are on the road and we will use it.” That was the end of the conversation because the IT teams had no solution. Those days are long past and today there are solutions, but back then, about 10 years ago, the story was different.
The people did what they had to do to get the job done.
Today, many of us are working in a similar dimension to the salespeople of 10 years ago, but for different reasons and in a wide range of differing contexts. Many of us have been rethinking our work lives. We have become more aware of the external world and new opportunities. We have rethought our life-work balance after working extensively from home for months. We have realized we want more life and less work!
So how does this compare to our customer-facing people? Are we also freer? Do we need more speed? Do we need to become more adaptive? To some extent, yes.
- More people are becoming freelancers which means no more monthly paychecks. Income depends instead on our reputations with satisfied clients, repeat clients and word of mouth to reach new clients. Even inside organizations, you need to be sure that people understand what you bring, that you have a personal brand.
- As freelancers and contractors we live in changing work environments. We go in and out of different work cultures as we move from project to project. Success depends on rapid adaptation. Again, this is more and more true today for people inside organizations.
- Even those of us still in salaried positions, are working from home offices and other non-corporate places. We feel disconnected. Digital conversations replace coffee machine conversations much of the time.
Our challenges now are how to build and maintain a reputation, how to adapt to frequently changing work environments and how to feel more connected – part of something bigger than ourselves. We need to find new ways of working, whether we are inside or outside an organization.
3 ways to go rogue in a way that makes sense
Build your networks.
Find online groups and F2F groups where you can both listen and contribute. Seek out people similar to you. Seek out people different from you. I’ve noticed that when I get invitations to connect to new people on LinkedIn, I discover by looking at their profile, that some of them have just left a salaried job and are starting up an independent activity. They realize now they need to build their network. Better late than never!
Practice serial mastery.
I’ve borrowed the term “serial mastery” from Lynda Gratton, professor of Management practice at London Business school and an active thinker and author about the future of work. In “Forces Shaping the Future of Work” (see reference below) She explains the need for people to become specialists in order to stay relevant. She calls this serial mastery. The world “serial” is key here. You must never stand still in your field of expertise, but constantly refine and develop new skills.
Gratton places mastery and connectivity as two essential dimensions of succeeding in the future. She says: “I believe that one of the paradoxes of the future will be that to succeed one will need to stand out from the crowd while at the same time being part of the crowd or, at least, the wise crowd. So, you will need to both stand out with your mastery and skills and simultaneously become part of a collection of other masters who together create value. Otherwise you will always be on your own, isolated and competing with thousands of others, with no possibility of the leverage that the crowd brings. In the past, success was achieved through personal drive, ambition and competition. In the future, it will be achieved through the subtle but high-value combination of mastery and connectivity.”
Build a personal holding environment.
The term “personal holding environment” was defined by Gianpiero Petriglieri and two colleagues (reference below) who studied external gig workers outside corporations. I quote from their paper: “We find that in the absence of organizational or professional membership, workers experience stark emotional tensions encompassing both the anxiety and fulfillment of working in precarious and personal conditions. Lacking the holding environment provided by an organization, the workers we studied endeavored to create one for themselves through cultivating connections to routines, places, people, and a broader purpose.”
You do not need to go freelance to think about building your personal holding environment. You may be inside an organization and feel the isolation felt by freelancers outside the organization.
In my case, I have been a freelancer since 2001, and have indeed personally felt the emotional tensions of not having colleagues, not being sure where the next project would come from, and not even confident I could handle it when it came! After a few years, these fears subsided, and with hindsight I guess I had built a personal holding environment, at least in part! I’d like to share my experience.
- Purpose – I gradually defined and maintained my purpose by deciding to do global research about the workplace. I mentally committed myself to 10 years. I have since gone beyond those years in the gig mindset research and book.
- Place – I set up a comfortable home office, although internet connectivity was very slow where I lived in a small town in the south of France. At the beginning, I had the very slow dial up with our modem calling the host in Paris, and huge monthly bills.
- People – I gradually built up a network of professional friends online using Linked In and in person events by creating a practitioner community that functioned well for 10 years, bringing together from 15 to 20 people inside organizations who were interested in my work and in sharing their experiences with each other.
- Routine – This was the hardest one for me, as I tended to get distracted by new ideas and directions! I don’t think I ever solved this one!
Going rogue in your mind
You can go rogue right where you are today. By becoming digitally skilled, well informed and connected in meaningful ways to others, you will develop a rogue mindset. You’ll have an inner sense of purpose and freedom, confident that whatever happens you can make your own way inside your organization or in the outside world.
Share your thoughts in the comments on the original post on LinkedIn (from December 21, 2021) and see what others think.
BYOD : https://hbr.org/2016/05/tracking-the-trends-in-bringing-our-own-devices-to-work
Forces Shaping the Future of Work, Business Strategy Review, Q3 2010, page 16-23.
Agony and Ecstasy in the Gig Economy: Cultivating Holding Environments for Precarious and Personalized Work Identities (Gianpiero Petriglieri, Susan J. Ashford, and Amy Wrzesniewski. Published in Administrative Science Quarterly 2019, Vol. 64(1)124–170 in 2018.