How to Turn an Organization Positive

October 29, 2015

By: Katherine Johnson

Positive deviance—a seemingly ironic phrase I first heard when I was introduced to Positive Organizational Scholarship less than a year ago.  At the 100th session of the Positive Links Speaker Series, Bob Quinn illuminated, to me, what it means to be positively deviant: to act outside of a conventional norm—a deviant behavior—and in a more positive direction. Seems pretty simple.

A predominant and intriguing question from the audience guided Quinn’s session: “How do I introduce positive organizing to executives at higher levels who are oblivious… have no consistent values… are technically inclined…” and the list goes on. Perhaps this idea of positive deviance is simple in theory but difficult in practice. The reason it is difficult?  Because it is “countercultural and therefore dangerous.” The solution? Change the music.

Through a simple yet powerful story of a doctor and an old man, Quinn illustrates that in order to change the dance, we first need to change the music. In other words, we need to change our mindset from a conventional thought process towards a positive lens in order to change our behaviors. The music, then, is the foundation for organizational effectiveness and flourishing. At the core of an organization are their values. These values drive leadership behavior, organizational culture, and employee performance. The key is to shift our focus from the result of our behavior to the reason for our value—minimizing the natural hypocrisy gap between value and behavior. According to Quinn, when a leader behaves with integrity, “other virtues follow and collective virtues emerge.”

Quinn says there are five ways in which to make this transformative possibility a beautiful reality for organizations: to establish a purpose, to nurture authentic conversation, to see possibility, to embrace the common good, and to trust the emergent process. By accepting and embracing these five mechanisms, you now have the knowledge and the talent to start the process in turning an organization positive.

“Have courage,” Quinn says. Courage to be positively deviant. Courage to help others, including those higher-up, become positively deviant. It takes work, and that work is leadership. My takeaway from Bob Quinn’s session is this: Anyone can teach you how to dance, but a leader will teach you how to hear the music.

Watch and celebrate the Positive Links Speaker Series 100th session with Bob Quinn here to learn even more about how to become a positively deviant change agent and turn an organization positive.

For more about the author: Katherine Johnson, +LAB Affiliate