Title: Positive deviance: a study of measurements and determinants.
Other Titles: Positive deviance: a study of measurements and determinants.
Authors: Mertens, Willem
Issue Date: 7-Oct-2014
Abstract: The objective of this dissertation is to provide theoretical, methodological and empirical advances to research on positive deviance in organisations. Positive deviance refers to behaviour or the outcome of behaviour that positively deviates from salient norms of a reference group without negatively affecting other groups. This reference group can be the team, department, division, or the organisation as a whole. In other words, positive deviance describes unusual or unexpected improvements that have been spontaneously developed by members of the organisation. Harvesting these positive variations has countless advantages in terms of resource use, change dynamics and organisational learning.Despite the growing number of accounts that testify to the potential of positive deviance for organisational learning and change, the body of research is incomplete in a number of ways. First, a clear consensus on the definition and boundaries of positive deviance has not been reached. Second, strong empirical studies are lacking; most studies to date rely on a single method and demonstrate little or no construct validity and reliability. Third, little guidance exists on how to do it better. In my PhD, I aim to alleviate these conceptual and empirical challenges and set out to answer three main research questions:RQ1: How to define, operationalize and study positive deviance in organisations?RQ2: What are the individual determinants of positive deviance?RQ3: How can management enable the emergence of positive deviance?I aim to provide answers to these research questions in three research papers. The first paper presents a structured overview of existing definitions of positive deviance and describes their differences. Next, it describes a framework for the empirical study of positive deviance in organisations that can be applied to any chosen definition. The second and third paper report on two empirical studies that apply this framework in a large Australian retail organisation. Through a mixed methods field study described in Paper II, I first explore and test a number of individual determinants of positive deviance in highly standardised operational processes of in-store bakery departments. In this paper, positive deviance is operationalized in a context-specific way and the findings demonstrate that is a discriminable and in other ways valid concept that can positively contribute to the organisational performance. Further, the results suggest that employees that (1) work in a highly standardised context, (2) have a desire to do their job well, (3) feel empowered by their job and context, and (4) possess the skills necessary to do their job well will more likely engage in positive deviance. In a next step I explore whether leaders can enable the emergence of positive deviance at and across the multiple levels of store management. In the study presented in Paper III, positive deviance is measured using a previously validated self-report scale rather than the context-specific way used in Paper II. The findings show that┬Śmeasured this way┬Śpositive deviance is not significantly associated with performance. Further, contradicting the general assumption and the findings of Paper II that empowered employees will engage more in positive deviance, the results of Paper III suggest that empowered employees deviate less. Because of these contradictory findings, I next report on auxiliary analyses that compare the data of Paper II and Paper III. These analyses shed light on why different ways of measuring positive deviance return different results, and further sharpen its conceptual boundaries. In conclusion, it appears that positive deviance occurs, that it contributes to the organisational performance, that it is more frequently engaged in by skilled and empowered employees, but that these empowered employees do not consider their behaviour to be deviant.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Research Center for Management Informatics (LIRIS), Leuven

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