When Deviance Works to Your Advantage
Tired of mediocrity and negativity at work? Jana Raver, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Smith School of Business, offers five strategies to give you the power to inspire organizational change.
By Alan Morantz
When we think of deviance, we typically think of social outcasts who behave in some abhorrent way outside the norms of society. From an organizational perspective, deviance is also typically associated with such behaviors as slacking, not upholding the norms of the organization, unethical conduct, and even incivility and harassment.
But there’s more to deviance than meets the eye. And, there can be great benefits to going against the norm, especially when the norm isn’t overly positive.
According to Jana Raver, Associate Professor at Smith School of Business and E. Marie Shantz Faculty Fellow in Organizational Behaviour, the positive norms that we hope to find within organizations such as active engagement, growth, achievement, honesty, and benevolence, aren’t always as prevalent as we’d hope. “Constructive deviants” are engaged employees who challenge organizational lethargy and push for higher standards of behaviour.
“Constructive deviants” are engaged employees who challenge organizational lethargy and push for higher standards of behaviour.
When you’re able to demonstrate positive behaviours by acting in a way that’s outside of the norm, you have the chance to expose the standards that are actually dysfunctional. “This type of behaviour has been linked to improved job performance ratings, recommendations for rewards, and actual rewards including raises and promotions,” Jana says.
Smart companies realize that encouraging constructive deviance saves money and increases innovation. Research has shown that it exposes dysfunction and unethical behaviour, allows for social change, encourages growth and learning, and improves group decision-making.
But it’s not always easy. “If you sit back like a disengaged, apathetic employee who will simply tolerate mediocrity,” Jana says, “then you’re not going to be able to make that positive change.”
To inspire organizational change, Jana offers the following five strategies to stand up for what you believe in:
Find your cause: Determine the issues you believe strongly enough in to stand up to.
Pick your battles: You can’t resist and question everything, so check your motives and be sure that you’re committed to helping improve the group/organization rather than putting your own self-interest first.
Know how to build a case: Know that the quality of your input matters, so draw upon principles of effective persuasion and social networking skills to support your cause. Do your homework to ensure that what you’re proposing has been well thought-out and can be clearly articulated.
Be willing to do the work: High quality suggestions are those that you’re willing to execute yourself and to take ownership of, rather than passing on to someone else. Know that once you’re invested in any cause it will take work and commitment to bring it to life.
Be persistent: Finally, realize that if you’re fighting norms you have to be willing to go the distance. Change isn’t going to happen overnight. If needed, know where to go for support in order to make change a reality.
“So, dig deep inside,” Jana says, “and be the change you want to see. You can choose to take action and be a constructive deviant to uphold the standards of what you believe in.”
You can hear more of Jana Raver’s discussion on constructive deviance in the workplace in this Smith Business Insight video, Building a Better Deviant.
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