Don’t we all occasionally have to make the choice whether to be the conformist type that goes with the order of the day (or what the boss wants) vs the errant, rebellious, nonconformist type that keeps going against the normal?
Is the choice we make regarding the two positions determined by our innate configuration (DNA – i.e. programmed pre-birth), the environment we are raised and work, organisational culture (like we see amongst the GAFA or the Church), a combination of all these?
What determines our character orientation?
If you ask the Effectiveness lab to give a straight answer to the above question – the nonconformist is our ideal. But we are also aware that things of this nature aren’t always a black or white affair. There is a grey shade between your black and white, that isn’t always clear to the naked eye as well as ‘simple’/basic brain. And that is many of us.
The determination of character type is driven by two or so factors: contextual where the ultimate manifestation of character may depend on how one has been raised and environment/contextual factors determining our individual character/style manifestation; there are also individuals that are programmed in a certain way – the ‘made like that’ if you want. It’s in their DNA to be nonconformist.
It’s beyond the scope of this blog to interrogate the scientific grounding behind either character. What we know is that we have witnessed manifestations of both character types at the workplace and in more general societal situations.
We want to, as usual, focus on the OD. side of things. Is being indisciplined or nonconformist good for organisations? Dothose that toe the line, the conformist type or the rebellious type not create signature value at organizations? May there be a third manifestation in this character debate – the dual-type that conform or rebel, depending on circumstances?
What character type is ideal and more signature-value enhancing for organisations?
What would you rather have at your workplace or even household? Of course, in asking the above question – we are making the assumption that conformist/nonconformist character types are straight-jacketed and available to pick and deploy like you do goods in a supermarket. But that isn’t necessarily the case.
Even judging precisely which character is conformist or not, is quite a difficult job. Those that have hired for companies understand what we are getting into here. It’s not that we have clear identity-tags for the two character types. It becomes even more complex when we talk about hybrids.
We will still make the assumption that amongst us, we tend to bias towards one of the two character types and that the hybrids are rare. So, the identification discussion aside, we still ask if we have the best of the two character types
We opine that determining character fit boils down to situational factors. It’s the case that firms don’t choose the character first; they situate their ‘culture-position’ then move to determine what character type suits the entity best. For example, there are some very straight forward cases: religious institutions prefer to hire the ’straight’ conformist type. They are by nature conformist, non-questioning, with practices that are mostly cast in stone and won’t likely change for the foreseeable future. So, the church is a church first, before it considers who they choose to serve.
On the other hand – you have industry type realities that determine the ‘culture-positioning’ of a particular industry and who best fits to work in such an industry. For example – the GAFA and the digital tech. industry. They are also an industry first, with all their character imprints, then they attract who is best suited to work for them. As you may already know – the GAFA work is extremely nonconformist. It’s an industry that is so complex and fast-moving that the straight-jacketed type of employee would struggle to cope with the constantly shifting ground.
And you then have you in-betweens or sort of hybrids. Firms or even households/societies that are caught in between being the rebel and conformist. I will give an example of an industry that I am very familiar with – the charity/INGO sector. The ‘culture-positioning’ of the industry is of oscillation between a stable environment and conformism and increasingly a turbulent, extremely competitive and threatening environment that calls for the nonconformist type. Indeed many charities are at crossroads regarding the best manpower [type] strategy. Rebels are a requirement but not always welcome, and the conformist type are home but increasingly irrelevant.
It’s therefore not far fetched to write on this blog that the question of whether the conformist or nonconformist type is the best employee to hire is moot. We opine that it’s a case of matching like with like and that both character types can excel if placed in a suitable culture. Don’t get your church suitable character and take them to work in the GAFA super complex and fast-moving context. They will be very, very confused.