Executive Careers Blog

When Going Rogue Is the Only Way Out

The Responsibility Revolution

I recently finished reading The Responsibility Revolution by Jeffrey Hollender the CEO of Seventh Generation and Bill Breen.

While the book lays down the business case of sustainable and responsible companies succinctly, it also gives key pointers on the way leadership is set to change in the coming years. Both as an employee and an influencer, one key aspect he emphasized hit home with me.

We all work as members of distinct hierarchies at work and while some companies enforce it strictly, there are outliers that don’t emphasize it quite as diligently. Some leadership experts say it is these outliers that remain the innovators and leaders of change in the marketplace. However, it isn't just because of the de-emphasis on following protocol; it is also about following certain unwritten tactics. For most of us, ideas stay ideas unless they grab the attention of senior management and escape the long path from creation to implementation.

But what if we took the opposite approach?

If you believe in the idea enough to present it to the board, for example, you probably are confident of its ultimate success, even if the initial task of convincing senior management might not be as simple. Would you risk going under the radar to see if it works before proposing it to your boss? Mr. Hollender puts this question to test with the example of WorldofGood.com calling it "Permission Not Required." This is basically what it comes down to: If you believe completely in the impact of your idea, you might stand to gain more than lose by going under the radar and putting it into action before hitting senior management with it.

He quotes Robert Chatwani, the entrepreneur within Ebay responsible for the venture. "First, we didn't ask for permission to get started. In large organizations, we're often compelled to ensure that what we're doing falls within the guidance of the company's top executives. But we said, building a business that has a positive social impact is an interesting challenge. Let's do it."* What he refers to of course, is the common assumption behind the origin of every project brief, every power point.

And it is this lowest common denominator that keeps a lot of diverse and workable ideas just that: ideas.

As members of senior management and decision makers, would you call this risky and maybe even naïve or would you risk commending it? Maybe, just maybe, nothing works quite like going rogue when the challenge is in stating the impact of your idea to the company's bottom-line and not the very success of the plan. And when you add "doing good" in the equation and suggesting initiatives that would help you’re your brand socially responsible, without contributing to the profit margins right away, this challenge suddenly becomes disproportionately terrifying.

Try it; it might just give you a sense of achievement unmatched by any number of shareholder meetings, champagne toasts to your monetary success and rising bar graphs of profits.

Have you seen this work at your company? As an executive, would you rather encourage innovation or leave it having an "open-door policy"? Leave us a comment, email or follow us on Twitter @VaultCSR!

*Excerpted with permission of the publisher Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint, The Responsibility Revolution: How the Next Generation of Businesses Will Win. Copyright (c) 2010 by Jeffrey Hollender and Bill Breen.

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Aman Singh is the Corporate Responsibility Editor at Vault.com. She is a New York University alum and previously wrote for The Wall Street Journal. Her area of work includes corporate diversity practices and sustainability, and how they translate into recruitment and strategic development at Fortune 1000 companies

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