Thursday, September 20, 2007

Being a fringe person

I've always been a fringe person. It took years to recognize it, and finally did at a Total Quality Management (TQM) workshop. In the first day of the workshop we took personality tests, of both ourselves and by others. It was quite interesting and informative to me, as it defined me as a "fringe person."

In TQM there are three concentric circles of employees with the boss at the center. Around the boss is a small circle of senior management who surround the boss as senior advisors, supervisors, and so on. Around that and encompassing most of the rest of the circle are the employees. And around the outer edge is a thin area of fringe people. Why the small distinction in the latter two groups?

The employees are generally divided between the inner group of supportive employees who volunteer, voice support, etc. for management's decision, and the outer compliant employees who are there to work and often don't care much for management. The thin third outer group are those employees are those who first, think out of the box - the most creative and innovative employees, second, question management, and third, don't accept rules or protocols - often expressing frustration at them.

This last group are the fringe people. It's where most companies, organizations and agencies get most of the ideas which lead to new products and services, often being reassigned to "normal" employees to do and get credit (trust me here, been there, experienced that). It's also where most companies, organizations and agencies get change and improvements. This is because most "normal" employees rarely question authority or don't often suggest ideas for fear of failure.

Most of the time I thoroughly enjoyed my career as a fringe person. I discovered that while many employees won't associate with you, the ones who like and respect you will and both will teach each other about life, work, ideas and so on. It's management that is the issue. If you are truly a fringe person, management will accommodate you because you advance the company, organization or agency with new ideas, but they may and often will also fear you.

They will fear you for two reasons. The first is the obvious loss of ideas. They know new ideas advance their career and won't hurt that. The second is because fringe people are the radicals who will stand up for rights and against abuse. They accept the consequences of their own decisions and willing to risk a lot, if not all, in the name of reality and truth. And that's scare most bosses.

Some bosses like this in fringe people. It's about individual responsibility and accountability, something senior bosses generally respect but many middle management fear since they play office politics fringe people don't. Fringe people believe in principles and issues, something senior bosses understand. That scares middle managers since they could be outed for their mistakes, abuses, and bad decisions.

I've spent a life so fare and career as a fringe person. It's been fun, sitting on the fringe looking outside and watching inside. I wouldn't trade it and will continue to be one. The freedom to be is more powerful and fun than the alternatives.

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