The Six Roles of the Corporate Renegades
by Kelvin F. Cross

"We are looking for the nation’s Corporate Renegades - the change agents within corporations who have made a big difference in the way the business operates. A Corporate Renegade might be the instigator for a major reengineering effort, or the primary inventor/designer of new business processes, or perhaps the implementers - the ones who made it happen. Perhaps it is not an individual, but a project team." This is the request made annually for nominations to receive the Corporate Renegade of the Year at Global Business Research’s Annual Cost Management 2000 Conference.

A review of the submissions does suggest that the biggest success stories do in fact depend upon renegade behavior, and usually upon more than one renegade. So what is renegade behavior?

Initially being a renegade can be a lonely job, since, as the dictionary defines it, a renegade is “one who deserts a party or cause for another.” In the doing so, the corporate renegade is perceived to be abandoning many of their colleagues and peers, and “going it alone.”

However, the reality is different … at least for the successful renegades. The reality in corporate America is that no renegade was successful by themselves. To overcome all the obstacles and make something happen required teamwork. It is always a team of renegades, each playing a different role, who have made the success stories of corporate change.

So what are the various roles played by the renegades of corporate change, and what are the highs and lows associated with each?

We found there are six renegade roles and they fall evenly into two categories: (1) Reactive Renegades, and (2) Proactive Renegades. The Reactive Renegade roles include: The Detective, The Instigator, and The Reactor. The Proactive Renegade roles include: The Visionary, The Architect, and The Builder. In case after case we have found that, while one individual could play more than one renegade role, the success stories resulted from the collaboration of multiple people encompassing at least all three roles within each category. In other words a reactionary change requires The Detective, The Messenger, and The Reactor. Proactive changes require The Visionary, The Designer, and The Builder.

Reactive Roles

The Detective

The Detective discovers opportunities and makes the case with facts. For the most part, those involved with various process improvement studies and Activity-Based Costing initiatives are Detectives. They detect new information and provide it to others. The highs of this role are found in the elation of making a new discovery. The lows are encountered when the new information is unpopular and therefore ignored, or worse when someone else who is a better communicator (and/or better politician) runs with the information and gets the bulk of the credit. But in the end, the Detective is perhaps the most important renegade. As Max duPree of Herman Miller said, “The first job of a leader is to define reality.”

The Messenger

The Messenger sees the value of a new insight and runs with it. In many situations the Detective is a heads-down analyst type and not assertive enough, or politically astute or connected enough, to sell their analyses. The Detective depends on the Messenger to obtain visibility for their work. The great high for the Messenger is in enlightening others. The low, as you might guess, is when the reaction is ‘kill-the-messenger.’ Also, the Messenger’s value is often denigrated as in: “all-show, no-substance” or “they’re getting credit for someone else’s ideas.” Regardless, the Messenger role is critical to obtaining the visibility required to make change happen.

The Reactor

Here is where the rubber-hits-the-road. A discovery is made, the facts are communicated, and action is taken. The Reactor is the person or persons who can take the required action and make change happen. The high is in being the one who gets to act. The low is that in many cases the actions are not popular. At one extreme is the case of Chainsaw Al Dunlap the turnaround specialist. He uses Coopers & Lybrand consultants to do the Detective work, and play the role of Messenger, leaving him with the role of Reactor. As less contentious example is found when products are re-priced, or customer segments are targeted, on the basis of activity-based costs. The Reactor is the renegade who does something with the new information.

Proactive Roles

The Visionary

The Visionary sees the world as it could be, rather than how it has been. A Visionary is not necessarily the CEO, but rather it can be anyone within the organization who pictures a new way of doing things. It was probably a renegade at Hertz who first suggested letting the customer go straight to their car and bypass the counter. The high of being a visionary is that concepts are fun and somewhat above-the-fray. However, the low of this role is when the Visionary is perceived as in-the-clouds.

The Architect

Someone has to take the Visionary’s ideas and make them workable, and that someone is the Architect. Hertz didn’t let customers simply go to their cars and leave. Great care went into the process and service design which would enable the vision to become a reality. The Architect’s role is to translate a concept into a specific design. The high for an Architect is in producing elegant workable designs. The low is in the frustration one feels when the elegance of the design isn’t appreciated, and worse when it isn’t implemented.

The Builder/Implementer

These are the people who implement the design. The high for the Builder/Implementer is the sense of accomplishment when something is installed, operational, and it performs as intended. However, implementation can be a thankless high-pressure in-the-trenches effort, with numerous details and little appreciation of the complexity. In many cases the bulldog tenacity and personal style required to implement is quite different than that of the designer.

Renegade Teams

Corporate change, and successful renegade behavior, requires teamwork. If you are a renegade, the lesson here is to find the renegade partners you need to complement your role as a corporate renegade. If you are the CEO and/or sponsor of a major change initiative, the project teams will ideally be staffed with the full complement of renegade behavior. No one individual can effectively play all the roles required of a renegade success story.

We started our search for renegades by saying: "We are looking for the nation’s Corporate Renegades,” and suggested that “Perhaps it is not an individual, but a project team." At the time we did not know how right we were. The submissions, and upon reflection of over 100 years of cumulative experience in our firm, suggest that the most effective corporate renegades share a common characteristic – they didn’t go-it-alone.

Kelvin F. Cross is the president of Corporate Renaissance, Inc. - a business process design firm in Concord, MA. He has worked with service and manufacturing companies to design efficient “back room” processes, knowledge work flows, and effective “front room” service encounters, supported by new performance measurement systems. He has co-authored: Corporate Renaissance: The Art of Reengineering (Blackwell, 1994) and Measure Up! How to Measure Corporate Performance (Blackwell, 1991). He is the author of Manufacturing Planning: Key to Improving Industrial Productivity (Marcel Dekker, 1986), and has published over 50 articles and papers. Contact Kelvin F. Cross via email at :

Many more articles in Leading Change in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 1998 by Kelvin F. Cross. All rights reserved.

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