Positive Deviance: Don’t Just Obsess On What’s Not Working, Reproduce What Is

We all want ingenious performance to lead us to better results. In order for teams to get those better results, they must help each other evaluate and alter performance. In the pursuit of better results, it’s easy to spend an awful lot of time talking about, and obsessing over, what’s going wrong. The rationale goes like this: if we find and correct what’s wrong, that correction will lead to the better results we desire. There is of course some truth to this. Correcting a negative deviance can indeed help a team do better. There is another kind of deviance, however, that deserves a lot of our attention: a positive deviance.

 

A deviance is a departure from the norm. A negative deviance is below the norm. A positive deviance then is a result that is ABOVE the norm. A positive deviance for a team would be the result of a person (or group) that is delivering better results than the norm. This person or group then would be deemed “high performing.”

 

A person or group is a positive deviance when he or she is delivering results above  the norm.

 

Can you identify the positive deviants–individuals or groups–on your team or in your organization? For example, if the “norm” for a sales associate (in a retail company) is $300 of product per shift, than an associate that consistently sells $500 per shift would be a positive deviant. To find positive deviants in your organization you have to know a few things:

 

  1. What measurements matter with regard to your results?
  2. What is the norm of those measurements (the average)?
  3. Who exceeds the norm on a regular basis?

 

Once you find positive deviants, you have a powerful tool for identifying potential performance enhancements that can be used by others. Here’s a step by step process to use positive deviants to help others enhance performance that leads to better results.

 

Action Step One: Find the individuals or groups that are producing positive deviance (high performers)

Action Step Two: Learn what they do different than others who produce the status quo (Don’t just celebrate positive deviance, LEARN FROM IT. What is the high performer doing that others are not doing?

Action Step Three: Have high performers share with others what they do with other individuals or groups.

Action Step Four: Expect others to incorporate similar behaviors that demonstrated by positive deviants.

Action Step Five:  Expect everyone to come up with new strategies to beat the norm. That is, everyone should be looking for ways to increase results through better performance. Everyone should ask: What can I do to alter my performance so it increases results?

Action Step Six: Be religious about driving results through performance enhancement. Find where performance is high and turn the volume up on it. Find where performance is low, appropriately expose it, and expect people to change it.

 

ONE NOTE OF CAUTION–READ THIS: Sometimes a positive deviance is uniquely tied to an individual or group. Simply imitating the behavior in another group may not lead to the positive boost you’re looking for. In fact, it can crash and burn. Some actions that lead one person to positive deviance may need to be altered or adapted in order for others to find them successful. You have to “mine for behaviors” that are transferable and adapt those that are not.

 

Find your positive deviants and let them lead the way.

 

2016-10-03T05:15:40-04:00

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Written by Dave Fleming