Loyalty in the workplace is one of those words that compares with words or phrases like: "Politically Correct", "Racist", "Bigot", etc. It can adapt to whatever definition the individual wants to attribute to it. Unfortunately, like these words it can do irreparable harm to those at which it is directed with no requirement to substantiate the accusation.
Over the years I have observed that managers, particularly mid level managers, love to use the term disloyal to describe any employee who either doesn't agree with them or approaches problems with solutions that are "outside the box". The problem with this is that once the label has been attached to the employee we, as managers, have laid the foundation for the employee to actually provide less than optimum contributions to the organization. I posit that this is true because the insecure managers are both: unwilling to exert the effort to develop the employee or are inadequately prepared to take that action or, need a scapegoat for a failed action or, simply are more concerned with personalities and not outcomes.
Loyalty: Steadfast in allegiance to one's homeland, government, or sovereign. 2. Faithful to a person, ideal, custom, cause, or duty (taken from the "free dictionary").
I would like you to note that nowhere in that definition is there any mention of blind agreement to the policies or procedures under which actions will be taken. I believe this is an important distinction. The majority of truly effective and productive personnel I have had work for me were also the biggest Pains in the tail. I will use a personal example to clarify my point. In the military I was sitting in my office discussing an upcoming deployment with the Colonel (O-5) when a young Lance Corporal (E-3) Radar technician burst into my office and slammed some papers down on my desk and stated that this was B.S. then stormed out. The Colonel immediately asked me if I was going to allow this. I explained to the Colonel that this was one of my most loyal troops and was a technician in a field that I had no knowledge. I stated that I would discuss his outburst with him but that discipline would be, not only, unnecessary but actually harmful in the young man's development. You see, I considered him "LOYAL" not because he always said what I wanted, or acted in the most approved manner, but because he truly cared about my organization and our success. As a post script this young man grew up to become a highly respected Staff member and later had a significant career in Information Technology.
As managers we often train and emphasize our employees to "think outside of the box". Unfortunately, we then harness them with a culture that restricts them from doing precisely that. I am forced to admit that my organizations have often driven me close to a nervous breakdown. Between the daily turmoil generated by workers trying to make significant, in their eyes, contributions AND the disapproving views expressed by my superiors, I was kept constantly "massaging" the various interactions. This said, I can take great pride in the contributions those organizations made to the success of the whole. I have had the honor of watching my employees and my superiors benefit from successes that could never have been achieved had I demanded the politically correct loyalty that is so prevalent in today's environment.
I would suggest, to all of those in a management position or about to be so, that you select your biggest problem employees and carefully evaluate their contributions. All too often we like to focus on the waves that our employees create without realizing that they are also the most productive of the pack. There are two specific actions we can take to benefit our ability to maximize our employees productivity.
First, managers need to take the time to review the qualifications of each and every employee. I have witnessed managers who take over a new department and assumed that because they had worked in the same organization they "knew" their employees. This is not only not true but is destructive to the success potential. The "rebel" or "disloyal" employee is often the lower level employee who is over qualified and is attempting to contribute. In fact, this employee is being "loyal" by trying to improve the situation. If we don't know the employees qualifications and capabilities how can we determine how we will utilize this source of energy.
Second, we need to develop a culture of turmoil. Now I don't mean anarchy, I simply mean that we need to encourage "thinking outside the box". When a subordinate manager used to come into my office and ask me what they should do I often refused to answer. I would tell them that that was why they were given the job. When an employee challenges you on a policy or procedure lead them into a discussion over the reasons one or the other will be more effective. Sometimes you will find you can adjust and sometimes the employee will now see your logic. Over time, and this is the key, the entire organization will develop into a dynamic culture which actively participates in the decision making process. The "over time" portion of that statement is what is foreign to most managers thought process. Most managers believe that progress has to be instantaneous.
Believe it or not, you will find that, as the organization develops you have fewer and fewer decisions to make yourself. You will become a referee between employees who are constantly cussing and discussing various policies and procedures and finding the most compatible course of action. I have said and will reiterate that, given six months, I could organize and run any organization. That within that six months it would be able to operate without problems while I played golf on Wednesday afternoons. This is not because I am better or worse than other managers, it is because I recognize that "loyalty" includes and benefits from controlled dissention.
Lastly, I just said controlled dissention. I want it clear that I never said open disrespect was the goal. There is a distinct difference between dissention and disrespect. It is the managers responsibility to educate that difference to the employees. It is important that the manager do this in a concientious manner that doesn't destroy the "loyalty" that generated the error in judgement.
ONE MORE THING TO CONSIDER