By: Chris White, Center for Positive Organizations, University of Michigan
You know positive deviants when you see them.
You may even be one.
If so: we want to celebrate you.
Positive deviants shake up the status quo. Amid the atrophy of a traditional organization, you inject new dynamics and force the system to respond to your initiatives. You are highly engaged, going above and beyond just doing a good job to make a difference to organizational outcomes, your colleagues, and the world around you. Your generative, energizing practices in turn create results—and impact. Extraordinary performance. Virtuous behaviors. Energized relationships and workplaces.
Yet such actions are not always welcome. For an organization to achieve scale, consistency, and reliability is often valued over individuality and creativity. Imagine a continuum of negative behaviors to normal behaviors to positive behaviors. In pursuit of consistency, negative behaviors—anything that works against the goals of the organization—is often sought out and stamped out. However, all too often the self-starting positive behaviors are also eliminated. In researching Changing Your Company From the Inside Out, Accenture’s Gib Bulloch told us that “corporate antibodies try to kill off anything that looks a bit different.” This is not just an Accenture issue, of course; Gib’s experience is tragically true in almost any large, complex organizational system.
Positive deviants like Gib are courageous and resilient in sustaining their efforts despite sometimes discouraging signals from those around them. “That won’t work,” they say. “We tried that,” they say. “You’ll never get approval,” they say. All the while, “they” take no action themselves. They have given up trying to make a difference—and either consciously or subconsciously would prefer you didn’t try either. And so the organization enters a slow downward spiral toward irrelevance and death.
Positive deviants like you don’t just talk a good talk. You take action. You undertake positive practices. Maybe you have developed a new product or service that makes the world a better place while being financially viable. Perhaps you have helped to make a great workplace culture, where people are their best selves and thrive. Or you have created programs that make your organization a force for good for your communities and the environment.
Here at the Michigan Ross School of Business, Dean Scott DeRue often says that business can be a powerful force for positive change in the world. We want you to share your positive practices with us, and with the world, through the Positive Business Project. We will celebrate some of the most impactful and replicable practices at the fifth annual Michigan Ross Positive Business Conference.
We need more positive practices, and we need more positive deviants.
In short: we need you.
Chris White (@leadpositively, leadpositively.com) is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations (@PositiveOrg) at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business (@MichiganRoss).