I found a very interesting article in the BBC website earlier this week and it reminds me of so many people I've worked with in retail-
'Sir Richard Branson freely admits that he would be a difficult employee for any boss to manage.
One of the UK's best-known and wealthiest entrepreneurs, he says that if he were a member of staff at another business, his line manager would have to "accept that I might not do things exactly as he'd like me to do them"
His argument is that the new ideas and drive that such mavericks bring to a business far outweigh the fact they may often be difficult to work with.'
The issue has always been that the maverick element in any worker has been so difficult to work with that they've ended up unappreciated and often in trouble. Not toeing the company line is always a dangerous path to tread - especially if you've got a line manager who's a stickler for the rules.
I've always said in large retail that if you're producing the results then nobody really cares how you do it. If you're suddenly not producing the results then it's ahead because you're not following the prescribed formula. But the reality doesn't fit the narrative. There will be parts of a mavericks performance in the good times that enables the store to perform and the team to achieve. It's down to a good manager to nurture this.
I worked with a guy once who was perfectly content to sit on a till for his entire shift day-in, day-out. I inherited him when I took over a failing store and he worked in his own way. He had been identified by the previous manager as part of the problem because he didn't follow the company line. He spoke informally (this was a petrol station and on his shift the customers were predominantly lorry drivers) and his whole persona was as a mate, not a server. But whatever you put in that till and asked him to sell - he sold. Everything from short-dated biscuits to cigarette lighters for every smoker and from dented tins of chocolates to doughnuts. Doughnuts were a big thing for this company and we were the tip sellers of doughnuts in their UK operation after we got the informal guy in on the act.
And all I had to do was nurture his talent, smooth some of the rougher edges but mostly - let him be himself. There was this disastrous attempt at restructure where I took him off the early morning shift and the lorry drivers and attempted to use his selling skills with the school-run mums in mid-afternoon. His informality rubbed them up the wrong way. But that was a short-lived experiment and he was soon back in the mornings selling away. From being seen as 'part of the problem' to actually being part of the solution wasn't a very long journey. Like most mavericks, he had a genuine sense of his own self-worth and was able to immediately switch back on his positive selling traits when he was encouraged to do so.
I know that we're looking at complete different levels from Richard Branson to 'guy in a petrol station' but the right talent nurtured in the right way becomes the leaders of tomorrow. Our seller is now an area manager and is able to see other mavericks in the network and identify with them.
What if I have mavericks in my organisation?
Is say that the first thing to understand us not to trample on them. Trying to form them into regular employees that fit nearly into the role that job descriptions define won't work for you or for them. There will be short-term disruption followed by the maverick leaving and possibly starting on their own. Spotting the individual talent that the maverick has is a large part if the journey. Then finding out how you can utilise this with as little disruption as possible to the rest of the team is the next step. Like our petrol guy, there may be areas where you put the maverick that don't work. Just don't be afraid to make the change again, having learnt the lesson from the previous placement.
I think that persevering with your maverick can have great long-term effects. The maverick can change the way you operates for the better, bring in new ideas and practices or bring out the best in their colleagues. Just understand that they're not trying to be difficult - it's just who they are.