C-Suite Agenda

How to Help Nonconforming Employees Turnaround Their Behavior

Meeting in office

Many business leaders face the age-old challenge of the best way to help employees who like to buck the system. This reality is especially challenging when these employees are disrupting the workplace.

Many books and articles already exist on this subject; however, here are some practical steps you can start putting into practice today. Doing so can potentially turn around unwanted behavior to benefit both you, the employees, and your organization:

  1. Recognize Non-Conformance as a Positive Sign
    Contrary to popular belief, nonconforming employees often do not want to cause trouble. Many are unhappy with the status quo, so they often act out. Because they care so much about their work, they are willing to engage in conflict. And when you think about it, their behavior is an act of courage and risk-taking.

    When business leaders can characterize these behaviors positively, they may discover that these employees are leaders in disguise!

    However, if you have multiple employees exhibiting this kind of behavior, it could signal that your culture isn’t allowing for differing viewpoints. If that is the case, working towards transforming your culture would be a worthy goal. Taking action with the following steps can help lead you in that direction.

  2. Provide an Environment Where It’s Safe to Challenge the Status Quo
    Unfortunately, many organizations recoil at allowing employees to challenge the status quo. They may think that they would experience a loss of control over their workforce by doing so. These businesses are often missing out!

    When organizations can create an environment where it’s safe to disagree with the status quo, this creates a zone of safety where creativity and innovation can flourish. By doing so, business leaders may discover that these nonconforming employees have great ideas for improving how the company does business.

  3. Create Avenues for Open Dialogue
    Nonconforming employees often act out due to leadership not listening to them in the past, so they are unfortunately continuing their behavior trend. But when business leaders create avenues for open dialogue, this can truly benefit both these employees and the company.

    Keeping communication lines open is all-important! To open these avenues, ask these employees for suggestions on making things better. But don’t just ask them for their ideas—act on the valuable ones, and table those with potential for later. Be sure to communicate why you tabled some of their suggestions!

  4. Practice Authenticity, Transparency, and Acceptance
    Another helpful approach is modeling authenticity and transparency. Be real. Tell your employees the facts; they don’t want just lip service.

    When business leaders do this regularly, it demonstrates that they care enough to communicate the truth. It also permits employees to be themselves; however, they must choose to accept each employee, quirks and all. For example, if they start being themselves and leadership does not support who they really are, this approach can backfire, even if these leaders have the best intentions.

  5. Show Appreciation
    There are many ways to show your employees appreciation, but the 5 Languages of Appreciation in Business: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People, by Gary Chapman and Dr. Paul White, outlines helpful approaches. If business leaders show appreciation geared towards employees’ preferred language for receiving that appreciation, their actions will be more impactful.

    The five languages are:
    1) Acts of Service
    2) Quality Time
    3) Words of Affirmation
    4) Tangible Gifts
    5) Appropriate Physical Touch.

    If you can determine how they best receive appreciation and act upon it, doing so can fuel a better working relationship with your employees, no matter their disposition.

  6. Coach and Challenge Them
    Many nonconforming employees can benefit from coaching to help them better navigate their work environment. With some of the more challenging employees, doing so may appear to be an ominous challenge; however, if they are open to learning how to navigate political landscapes and coaching in other areas, this can help them grow in their leadership abilities.

    In some instances, these employees may just be bored with what they are doing. They may have been under-challenged in the past. In many cases, they want to be stretched and prove that their unconventional ideas work. If managers can give them challenging assignments to spur their interest, you may be pleasantly surprised with the results. And if they do well with these assignments on an ongoing basis, perhaps a promotion would be in order.

Solving this age-old problem is never easy; however, if business leaders can put these steps into practice, their efforts can potentially transform nonconforming employees into the leaders they were destined to be. 


Written by Kathy Kent Toney.
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Kathy Kent Toney
Kathy Kent Toney is the founder and CEO of Kent Business Solutions, a process improvement consulting and digital transformation enablement firm. She is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt, Lean Professional, and Professional Scrum Master with over 35 years of experience, +20 years spent working in Fortune 100 companies. Her most significant achievement was facilitating a sales process that experienced an increase in sales from $85M to +$300M over nine years. This process was nationally recognized as best-in-class in this company’s industry space. Kathy lives in the Kansas City, Missouri area.

Kathy Kent Toney has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, graduating Magna Cum Laude. She worked for Northrop Grumman, Honeywell, and Bayer Animal for 27 years total. Kathy’s experience lies across multiple disciplines, including Process Improvement, Cost Controls, Proposal Preparation, and Market Research, to name a few. She has owned her own consulting firm for seven years. Kathy is passionate about helping organizations to become profitable beyond their imagination!


Kathy Kent Toney is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.