Love Your Deviants…

Paul Hebert Career Paths, Driving Productivity, Innovation, Leadership, Paul Hebert, Performance

Managing talent in an organization today is tough.  Lots of people, lots of regulations, lots of opinions, lots of just plain work.

If you are responsible for “HR” or talent in a division of a large organization or just a few folks for the local law office, you have a tough job.  Keeping up with all the change that today’s markets throw at us is difficult.  I’m betting that in order to keep doing your job – and doing it well – you’ve instituted a few processes and forms to help you manage this chaos.  To keep the machine humming you need to categorize, segment, aggregate, etc.  It’s normal to want to put some order into managing the talent for your company.

Unfortunately (I know you’ll hate me for saying this) – that won’t add any value to your company and help it compete in the future.

Before you start throwing coffee mugs and pencil holders at me (do people still have pencil holders?) take a breath and let me explain.

Deviantcurve1 First – I’m generalizing to make a point.  I’m sure there are a fair number of you who eschew forms and processes and work very hard to create a free-thinking, less structured environment for your employees.  However – I’m more worried about the fact that most folks lump employees into a bell-curve and manage to the “average.”  If you look at a normal distribution curve, you see that the center is larger than the tails.  That’s where most folks fit – and that is where we typically spend our time – managing the middle.  We typically spend our time where the most people are – it’s human nature.

But, I think you can add more value to your company if you look at the tails of the normal distribution – in other words – look at those that deviate from the “norm.”

Deviants Are Your Friends

When I go in to do a diagnostic on performance within a company, the first place I look is at the tails – those that deviate from the norm.  When I tell the client I want to hang out with their deviants, they just dismiss them as either beyond hope (negative deviants) or special (positive deviants).  Most companies try to fire the negative deviants and assume that the positive deviants are just special and their performance can’t be transferred to the larger population.

But consider this quote from a Fast Company article in February 2002:

“Deviance is the source of all innovation. It’s the wellspring of new ideas, new products, new personalities, and, ultimately, new markets. It can be a force for good or for evil (and sometimes both). In its purest sense, deviance is really nothing more — or less — than any one of us taking one measurable step away from the middle of the road.

Time to Let the Tail Wag the Dog

To truly help your company compete in the future, spend time in the tails – both positive and negative.

On the positive side, find out what they do, how they do it, who they rely on to do it, what they don’t do that you would think they would, etc., etc.  In other words, deconstruct as much as possible what makes them deviant.

On the negative side, do the same.  Find out why they don’t measure up.  Is there a training issue?  Do negative deviants come from a particular background?  Do they seem to be in one division, territory, etc.?  Figure out what is making them a negative deviant and eliminate that from the mix.

Look for Surprises

Nothing is better for business than surprises.  Most top managers hate surprises – they believe surprises are the result of bad planning and bad management.  But from a people standpoint, surprises mean someone did something different – out of the norm – and that is where innovation, change, success (and failure) reside.  Without those little surprises, nothing new happens.

Deviants give us surprises – deviants are your friend.  Go hang out on the wrong side of the tracks for a while and – vive la difference!