No matter your organization size, make-up or geographic location, there is always an anomaly at work within it. It is something that flies in the face of conventional wisdom and what seems like good sense. There’s no real explanation for it, at least not one that is exceedingly obvious. This isn’t a negative experience, it’s refreshingly positive. Despite the resources available and the overwhelming challenges experienced by everyone, there seems to be an exception. An individual, team or business unit whose unique behaviors and strategies give them a leg up over their peers. They source solutions and continually move forward in an environment where everyone else seems to struggle. Who are these people?

The short answer is they are the positive deviance in your organization. This isn’t exactly new to leaders. Hours are spent trying to figure out a way to replicate what is working in spite of all the difficulties. The usual approach is to ask questions (think interview) to find out what these folks are doing. While it may seem like a great idea, answers are only as good as the questions. This can leave a gap in understanding exactly what is being done.

Instead of “finding” the answers in order to revamp policies and structure a new way of doing things, there is a much more effective way to allow this to permeate throughout your organization. Depending on the culture and view of leadership within your organization, many may not respond well to more “bureaucracy” from them.

There is a much more effective way to make sure this positive deviance has the opportunity to saturate your organization. People don’t like to have to deal with struggles. A barrage of poor choices have been made in the spirit of avoiding struggles or challenging issues. If they are put in a position to simply recognize a better way to to work through the difficulties that is supported by a peer, they are more likely to adopt the idea.

Here are some ideas on how this exception, your positive deviance, can help develop your organization:

  • Cross train – Not only does this help knock down any existing or developing silos, it increases esprit de corps. When those struggling are able to work and naturally communicate with those who are the positive deviance, discovery takes place. Instead of being told what to do, people discover the benefits of doing things differently and they naturally adopt them into how they work.
  • Encourage what works – From an engagement standpoint, it’s important to praise what you want to continue. Do NOT make this a favoritism issue. Just because you’re encouraging what works doesn’t mean you should overly criticize what isn’t working. Address it, but don’t make them feel like 2nd rate people/employees for the difficulties they face.
  • Be a facilitator – Instead of feeling like there is some urgency that causes you to create an unrealistic timeline around the change that needs to take place, make things easier to change. As a leader, you get the amazing opportunity to remove obstacles that inhibit people from improving themselves and the processes that are needed to do their job well. You will be consistently amazed by the progress made if you become a facilitator and obstacle remover as opposed to someone who is always mandating change.
  • Assume it as the norm – If leadership adopts the positive deviance as that which is “normal” within the organization, there will be a much greater chance of others within the organization adopting the same. It will raise curiosity and people will find the answers they need to move things forward in a positive light.
How have you seen a “positive deviance” become the standard in an organization?