Be a workplace rebel: Changing your company from within

Be a workplace rebel: Changing your company from within

Rebel talent can drive innovation, but don’t let your good ideas fall into a pothole


It’s time for companies to embrace their rebel talent as a way to foster innovation, employee engagement and change from within.

But what happens when a brave employee decides to challenge organisational conformity before the company has embraced the idea of rebel talent? The employee is often on her own, making it up as she goes along, often tripping over organisational potholes and stepping on cultural land mines.

We’ve found that no matter the organisation, rebels trying to advance good ideas are susceptible to making several common errors. Here are the top pitfalls for you to avoid if you’re a rebel at work trying to break through.

1. Failing to prioritise your ideas

When you constantly suggest ideas, you risk diluting your impact, particularly if you never engage in the hard work of implementation. Choose the one or two suggestions you have that are most relevant for the organisation and stand the best chance for implementation.

2. Going solo

If you have an impulse to go it alone, temper your ego by working with others to advance your ideas. Be prepared to relinquish ownership of your idea so a broader group can implement the change. Bringing fresh perspectives to the idea will improve it.

3. Flunking the pitch meeting

You only need to pitch three things: what’s at stake, what will be different if the idea is adopted and assurance that the proposed idea is likely to work. Rather than spending 45 minutes presenting and leaving 15 minutes for questions, flip it. Give a tight, 15-minute presentation and then discuss the idea for 45 minutes. Engagement is the start of buy-in.

4. Giving up too soon

Setting small goals and appreciating small wins will help prevent you from giving up too soon. It will also help you find a mentor who can help you navigate the tricky organisational politics involved with making change happen.

5. Ignoring personal danger signals

In the pursuit of big goals, you may find times when you’re exhausted, bitter or angry. Increasing your resiliency is crucial for your success. Be attuned to signs that you’re feeling negative and take action to improve your mood: appreciate what’s working, spend time with good friends, become more mindful, keep a journal, eat well. These practices will help you see the good in your organisation even on frustrating days.

Lastly, don’t make the mistake of thinking that your career or reputation hinges on one particular idea or cause. Creativity is a renewable source of energy for rebels – if this idea doesn’t work out, another one will. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2016

Lois Kelly and Carmen Medina are co-authors of Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change From Within and co-founders of


Previously published in The Irish Times.


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