I recently toured a facility where the all the employees seemed happy and excited to work. The employees were actively engaged and when asked by management to work harder, faster and longer, they gladly did so. Output levels continually increased, accidents were down and they willingly offered to help other departments to meet work demands. The visiting managers asked, “How is this being done? How are you managing this? There has to be a magic formula here. We want to take these behaviors and implement them in our buildings too. Please, tell us the secret”. The facility bosses answered, “There really isn’t a secret. They do it because they want to. They do it because we expect it. “

The expectation by facility management to work at a high level had become the norm. No one questioned the expectation because that was all that they knew. As the managers talked, I was searching for a way to explain the amazing success rationally. Immediately, the Positive Deviance theory popped into my head. I know. It doesn’t sound like a very positive description of a model workplace, but deviance in this sense is a good thing. Try to think of this way. Deviance is a change in normal, accepted behavior. Deviance doesn’t have to just be negative, it can be positive too. This group of workers is demonstrating above average work habits and performance levels. They are deviating from the acceptable level of production and behavior. It is advantageous for everyone to find ways to get employees to want to work beyond normal levels because that is when innovation happens and output levels increase. If employees are involved in pushing boundary limits, higher engagement and increased job satisfaction occurs. So the question then becomes, how do you keep your performers motivated to keep moving the line of what is acceptable output and raising the bar higher on their own performance?

An unfortunate thing about the theory of positive deviance is that when the high performing group that “pushes the “envelope” performs at an elevated level, it is critical that they are rewarded and acknowledged for their efforts. If they aren’t and the extra effort is ignored or ridiculed, they will become defeated, possibly deflated and wonder, why did I do all that extra work? Usually the end result is that they slip back into the old norms of the group and work at the established level of production. Un-appreciation can happen from bosses or co-workers. It may not even be intentional. The trick for bosses is that they have to be trained to be on the look-out for employees that are working hard and finding creative solutions that help the business. These outstanding workers then become the models. However, change is hard for people and it is much easier to go along and follow the same routines. The theory suggests that if the employee or group is rewarded (satisfaction, elation, pride, etc.), they will want to repeat that behavior. Gradually, this new level of output will become the norm and the others will buy into the system and work up to this new level of production. If you are successful at implementing the process, your ceiling will get higher because your employees will be motivated to keep pushing through existing barriers.
It is probably easy to imagine what workplace utopia looks like but where do you start?

1. Employees have to believe that their organization cares about them. They have to trust that they will hold them and everyone else accountable for their work production consistently, hold true to their values, reward loyalty and provide opportunities to improve themselves somehow. This might be financially, with training, respect or even status.

2. Come up with a well thought out plan. Where is it that you want to go? What is it that you want to change?

3. Communicate the message that nothing was wrong and that it is now going to be better than ever. Communicate as the process is moving along too. So often, when we hear that we are going to start doing something new, we ask, what was wrong with what we were doing before? So many programs start out with a “bang” but fizzle out after it isn’t brand new anymore. You have to keep the message and the goal out front for your employees. If they believe that it is important for the organization and you, they will continue to find ways to push that normal level of output. If your employees don’t believe that it is important, it becomes so easy to slip back down to what they were doing before your initiative.

4. Establish goals that make sense for your business. Explain the process. The most brilliant idea won’t be implemented if no one understands what they are trying to implement or why.

5. Don’t change something for the sake of changing and don’t change too often. If change is hard on people, too many changes will be extra stressful. Stick with your changes. You can’t measure something that wasn’t in place long enough to measure and your people will lose faith that the changes will make a difference.

6. Don’t expect it to happen overnight. Give it time. You might even experience some resistance. Resistance is good. This means that you are “upsetting the apple cart” a little. No one can change without pushing limits. Explore what the resistance is, readjust, regroup and stick to the plan. There might be a few good ideas in there.

7. Keep it fresh and in focus. Revisit it often or at scheduled intervals. If you forgot about it, so did your

How much more work could you get out of your employees or how much more successful could your company be if your employees chose to work at higher than normal levels of productivity? If you have an elevated level of production coming from a motivated group of employees already, seize it! Recognizing and rewarding those individuals may help you change the energy levels within your entire workforce. Implementing change is not easy or a fast process. It takes time to process each step of a successful transformation. Continue to communicate as the process goes on. Communicate the success. Communicate failures. If everyone is involved toward the common goal, they can work together to find alternative pathways toward success. Also, don’t forget to connect your change plan to whatever your core business is. It really has to connect with your employees and make sense for your operation. Be happy when you see measured movement but also remember your plan. Are you all the way there yet? Have you met all your goals? If you do reach your goal, re-adjust and set new goals. By doing so, you are demonstrating the ultimate in positive deviant behavior.

Source by Melissa A. Andrews