University of Texas at Austin
Micro and macro scholars alike have long warned about ‘‘incongruent’’ work environments that sow confusion by sending inconsistent normative signals to employees. We argue that these warnings rest on the debatable assumption that employees do not have cognitive bandwidth and emotional resilience to do more than single-mindedly pursue internally consistent goals. Challenging this assumption, we argue that employees in today’s complex knowledge economies often face tasks that require balancing opposing risks such as those of conforming too closely to standard practices against those of deviating too far. Given this reality, we explain how congruity can sometimes be maladaptive and incongruity, adaptive. Congruent combinations of process accountability and collectivism can trigger excessive conformity and congruent combinations of outcome accountability and individualism can induce excessive deviation. But incongruent combinations can motivate employees to rethink tacit assumptions and explore better ways of reaping the benefits of conformity (deviation) at a lower cost of the other value. That said, managing tradeoffs can be exhausting—and congruity affords needed guidance. Organizations should therefore introduce incongruity in carefully calibrated quasi-experimental doses. The likelihood of successful implementation of this advice hinges on managers’ ideological resistance to incongruity as well as their ability to mobilize employee ‘‘buy in.’’ Our chapter highlights the dialectical interplay between incongruity which encourages mindfulness and congruity which provides a respite from the burdens of choice.