Excellence is a form of deviance

April 12, 2009 2 Comments

From Robert Quinn’s Deep Change:

Excellence is a form of deviance. If you perform beyond the norms, you will disrupt all the existing control systems. Those systems will then alter and begin to work to routinize your efforts. That is, the systems will adjust and try to make you normal. The way to achieve and maintain excellence is to deviate from the norms. You become excellent because you are doing things normal people do not want to do. You become excellent by choosing a path that is risky and painful, a path that is not appealing to others. (p. 176, emphasis added).

As a leader, do you reward deviance in your people or do you reward conformity? Are you surrounded by people that tell you what you want to hear or people that tell you what you need to know? If no one ever comes to you with bad news or suggestions for improvement, there is a reason for that – YOU. Although your rhetoric may say sound good, your behavior is saying something else and your followers have gotten the message loud and clear.

Pfeffer and Sutton (2006) identify the talents of wisdom in four types of folks that help sustain organizational learning.

Noisy complainers: Repair problems right away and then let every relevant person know that the system failed
Noisy troublemakers: always point out others’ mistakes, but do so to help them and the system learn, not to point fingers. They are purposeful and not egocentric.
Mindful error-makers: Tell managers about their own mistakes, so that others can avoid making them too. When others spot their errors, they communicate learning – not making the best impression – is their goal.
Disruptive questioners: won’t leave well enough alone. They constantly ask why things are done the way they are done. Is there a better way of doing things?

Most folks look at this and think “oh hell no!” But these are exactly the types of people you want to surround yourself with. These folks are focused on excellence and are not afraid of the external sanctions that are trying to get them to conform, to “sit down and shut up!” They are purposeful actors that are focused on their role in promoting continuous system improvement because it is the right thing to do.

Do you practice excellence or the mediocrity of conformity? Are you encouraging or discouraging excellence in others?

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Comments (2)

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  1. Matt Gardner says:

    its interesting to think that some of the people who annoy you the most will also help your company succeed.

    [Reply]

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Hmmm, I’m not sure about that one. I can think of a few people that annoy the snot out of me, and they do indeed to great things for the organization, but the fact is we could live without them and might even be better off. Thanks! Bret

    [Reply]

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