"Managing People with Morecrofts"

Walking alone – Hiring disruptive talent in your workplace?

by Thomas Sutherland

Sir Richard Branson was yesterday reported as stating that businesses should hire more disruptive and challenging individuals if they wish to thrive and become more successful. 

His reasoning for these comments stem from his view that a business can thrive through hiring individual employees who are willing to step forward and air their views, even when those views clash with the general majority. He believes that such employees can inspire positive debate and change at an organisation. 

Naturally, few employers will have good connotations of anyone labelled as ‘disruptive’, namely because this is the exact opposite to the usual buzzword used when hiring an employee – this being the phrase ‘team player’. Whilst all businesses are obviously very different, most would rather seek out a ‘team player’ – i.e. someone who works hard within a team whilst being able to work within a team without disagreement – rather than someone who is depicted as ‘disruptive’.

Naturally, there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of employee, but what should a business do and can the two types of individual, ‘team players’ and ‘disruptive talent’, mix successfully in a modern workplace? Well, let’s take a footballing perspective on this. Apologies in advance to those who don’t support Liverpool FC here, but it just so happens to provide the perfect context for this blog (honest!)

So, to explore the topic further, let’s name two ex-Liverpool FC footballers who could be described as disruptive in slightly different ways, namely Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling.

Luis Suarez – Here we have a footballer who, during his time at Liverpool, received multiple bans for biting opponents and inappropriate comments on the pitch, as well as deliberately and unapologetically handballing the ball off the line at a World Cup to keep Uruguay in the competition. Disruptive behaviour causing negative headlines for both the individual and Liverpool FC. 

However, Liverpool fans will mainly remember him for his immense talent, motivation, drive and nearly leading the team to the Premier League title. In fact, his talent alone allowed other members of his team to prosper also and lead to a more successful, overall team dynamic.

Raheem Sterling – And now for the highly topical player. After a lengthy transfer saga, Raheem has recently left Liverpool and joined Manchester City for £49 million. 

Whilst being a massive, young talent with a lot of potential, Raheem also showed a slightly disruptive side through his agent publicly criticising the club during contract negotiations and Raheem reportedly absent from training and refusing to join the pre-season tour in order to encourage a move to Manchester City.  

So, out of the above, which employee would you have in your workplace? Would you have the hard-worker who pushes the rules but is more talented than the majority of your employees (the ‘Suarez’) or the career-focused employee who could be trained up to his/her obviously high potential, but who is potentially prone to force a move elsewhere to further themselves in the future (the ‘Sterling’).

Whilst some employees would prefer one of the above types of ‘disruptive talent’ in order to benefit from their positive effects, many may find that the price of the disruptive behaviour that comes with the individual is just too much to fit into their organisation. Whatever your personal view, Sir Richard Branson’s comments inspire debate on just what types of personality you could envisage in your workforce…