Imitating the Expert’s Behavior Can Diminish Organizational Performance: Here’s Why

Topic: Culture
Publication: Academy of Management Journal (APR 2009)
ArticleThe Enactment-Externalization Dialectic: Rationalization and the Persistence of Counterproductive Technology Design Practices in Student Engineering
Authors: P.M. Leonardi, M.H. Jackson, A. Diwan
Reviewed By: Katie Bachman

What makes for an expert? In many workplaces, the idealization of an expert employee is a maverick—an independent, autonomous individual who is not subject to “best practices.” This person can take a problem and solve it without input from instruction manuals or other people. However, this conceptualization of expert behavior often leads employees to engage in behaviors that are counterproductive to success.

Doing things the hard way can become the culture when people internalize the maverick ideal and begin to behave accordingly. Take, for example, procrastination. The ability to start a project at the last minute and complete it successfully takes an expert. However, procrastination hurts productivity when workers submit poor or incomplete work due to rushing. As another example, working in collaborative teams may be seen by those who ascribe to the maverick ideal as a waste of time, particularly when individual contributions are not seen as important. However, teamwork often leads to better solutions and outcomes.

Bottom line: this research supports the assertion that in the workplace, the “expert” may not be the best employee. Instead, a worker who has the ability to collaborate effectively with others and can follow instructions and deadlines may be your stronger player. Employers should attempt to create a culture that appreciates employees who engage in productive behaviors, but in many cases they’ll have to do so in the midst of romanticized ideals about the behaviors of those mavericks that paved the way for the organization’s success.

Leonardi, P. M., Jackson, M. H., & Diwan, A. (2009). The enactment-externalization dialectic: Rationalization and the persistence of counterproductive technology design practices in student engineering. Academy of Management Journal, 52, 400-420.