Positive Deviance

Positive cultures lead to productivity and can even stir high performance or “positive deviance”. How could you make that work?

People perform best when they feel good about themselves, plus: when they know what they must do and what the criteria are.


Though rather simple, this is explained in The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. Work with clear goals (understandable within a minute), immediate praise (to encourage) and reprimands (to give negative feedback directly when something happens so people learn on the spot).

Clarity is key as it enhances a feeling of safety. People know what is expected – and what to expect of their team mates and supervisor – when work is good enough – when it is due – what the boundaries are within which they can decide, etc.
If this is not clear, it adds to un-safety as people scan for clues what is expected, how to fit in, when they will be good enough and safe. It also adds to conflicts and confusion within teams.

Who is doing something extremely well - or who has solved this issue? Click To Tweet

So, it’s important to establish clarity about tasks and results. Preferably, do that together with the team. It’s crucial to also make clear that “merely effective” is not good enough. You are looking for “positive deviance”.

High performance

Positive deviance means high performance. This is the productive part of your positive culture. Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community or organization, there are a few individuals or groups whose uncommon but successful behaviors and strategies have enabled them to find better solutions to problems than their fellows who face the same challenges and barriers and have access to same resources. They deviate positively from the group and others might learn from them.

How can you stimulate positive deviance? By finding the outliers in your organization and see what they do differently. By asking around, you might find that positive deviants are possibly also positive energizers, and that there’s general consensus about who they are.

* Who is doing something extremely well – or who has solved this issue?

According to consultant William Seidman, Positive Deviants categorize quickly and efficiently using subtle criteria. They are “unconsciously competent” and know from experience how to assess a situation and what to do to complete a task. They have learned what is most likely to go wrong, how to prevent it from going wrong, how to detect when something is about to go wrong, and what to do about it if the problem occurs. Once you’ve found them, support them and see how they could teach the others to do the same.

This is book post #74 – Part “WE”

For more insights and tips, order my book Developing a Positive Culture

Check out the online Positive Culture Academy. Let’s be Positive Agents who do revolution by evolution: one interaction at a time, one person at a time. Subscribe to the Academy’s mailing list so I can keep you posted!

Here’s the earlier post
Here‘s the next post

If you’re confused, check the Positive Power overview and read the Positive Agent Manifesto.

By the way, if you want to contribute to a positive workplace culture, my next open workshop on Positive Culture Change Leadership is scheduled for September 2018! More information and registration is only a mouse click away.

© Copyright Marcella Bremer, 2018. All rights reserved.

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