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Amplifying Positive Deviance

Aug 17, 2007
In our consulting we believe that we can and will find the solutions to business problems within the organization in which we work. Often we may need to bring in an outside expert to show how others are doing work, but essentially companies have the solution at hand. Its just not acted upon, for a variety of reasons!

Have you ever heard of the approach or tool called Amplifying the Positive Deviant, which was created by Jerry Sternin? Jerry and his wife, Monique, worked for the Save the Children Foundation in Vietnam during the 1990s. It was their job to help save starving children in the country's villages. Within six months, they adopted a radical approach to making change. Now, positive deviance is being applied around the world to change behavior in a variety of other social and organizational situations, such as the spread of AIDS in the Third World and ethnic conflicts in Africa. (To learn more about the Sternin's application, read the Fast Company December 2000 article at http://www.fastcompany.com/online/41/sternin.html)

Times of change present perfect opportunity to apply this tool. First, it's important in your role as a leader that you are clear about the, transformation, "contextual shift," culture change, or vision you are moving toward. Next you'll want to observe those "positive deviants." These are people, tools or processes in the organization that are moving in the same direction as your vision, goal, or change initiative that you are making happen.

Discover what the successful behaviors are, the mindsets, the results that support these "deviants." What is it that makes them work so well? What's in place that made these results possible? Then find ways to amplify, announce, and spread the word of their results. Best practices are an excellent opportunity to demonstrate this. Other ways to amplify these positive deviants may be stories in the company newsletter, on the intranet, on announcements to key stakeholders and customers, or even at the usual off-sites. It doesn't have to be on such a large or visible scale, as it is also effective in staff meetings and conversations with colleagues and managers. Additionally, this is a great opportunity to support and give visibility to your women colleagues.

The key is to find multiple ways to amplify the positive deviants and keep providing opportunities for others to build new behaviors, results, "context shifts" that move the organization in the desired direction. Sternin says, " ... find small, successful but 'deviant' practices that are already working in the organization and amplify them. Maybe, just maybe, the answer is already alive in the organization -- and change comes when YOU find it."

Go and fine the deviants making things work in your business or even your industry.

About the Author
Graeme Nichol Arcturus Advisors (http://www.arcturusadvisors.com)works with business leaders and their teams to close the gap between great strategies and mediocre results. (Newsletter arcturusadvisor@aweber.com)
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